Saturday, 30 May 2009

Fee for Parts. (A Poem from 1943)

The following poem was written by my uncle, William D. Trotter (1922-2001) while he was studying medicine at the University of Otago. It was published in the 1943 number of the Medical Digest. The subject of the poem – what remains of our humanity after death – is one which, I imagine, taxes all medical students when they first undertake the dissection of cadavers. The structure of the human body was a subject that continued to fascinate and absorb my uncle for all of his professional life, culminating in his appointment as Professor of Anatomy at the Otago Medical School. His family has found no other evidence of his talent for poetry, which, as the poem below demonstrates, was considerable. A great pity.

Fee for Parts

And when you died
There was no one,
No one who could say
To red-eyed daughters, tight-lipped sons
That you had tried
Had done your best
Had been a friend, a grand old man:
No one, when they tiptoe in and lift the shroud
To say, how beautiful
You are, with face unfevered, brow unlined,
At rest.

Yet the mystery just lately
From your cells departed
Is the same that leaves all others’ cells
Masterless, and inco-ordinate.
And we with knives and weighty tomes
Would probe, examine and dissect
This lump of clay.
Vainglorious we try to understand
Your mystery
Unpenetrated and

There were
No flowers for you, nor psalms,
Nor cool green earth;
But integers metallic; ribaldry
And young irreverence.
Injustice? Still they say:
‘No sparrow for a farthing sells
But God the Father …
And of your head each hair the Angels number.’
But even then
I wonder.


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