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The Stethoscope (Dannie Abse)

(Excerpts from a lecture and reading delivered by the poet at the NYU School of Medicine, April 8, 1999)



"I felt that poetry shouldn't be an escape from reality, but rather an immersion into reality, and part of my reality was, indeed, my hospital life at the time. And so I became prepared to write poems which had medical undertones. Louis Pasteur once said (talking of scientific inspiration), 'Chance favors the prepared mind,' and my mind was prepared to write poems that were medically colored."



The Stethoscope

            Through it,
over young women's tense abdomens,
I have heard the sound of creation
and, in a dead man's chest, the silence
  before creation began.

            Should I
pray therefore? Hold this instrument in awe
and aloft a procession of banners?
Hang this thing in the interior
  of a cold, mushroom-dark church?

            Should I
kneel before it, chant an apophthegm
from a small text? Mimic priest or rabbi,
the swaying noises of religious men?
  Never! Yet I could praise it.

            I should
by doing so celebrate my own ears,
by praising them praise speech at midnight
when men become philosophers;
  laughter of the sane and insane;

            night cries
of injured creatures, wide-eyed or blind;
moonlight sonatas on a needle;
lovers with doves in their throats; the wind
  travelling from where it began.

Audio and text of commentary and poetry reading reproduced with the permission of Dannie Abse. Copyright (c) Dannie Abse. All rights reserved.

Poem appears in the Abse collection, Be Seated, Thou , to be published by Sheep Meadow Press in January, 2000 (PO Box 1345, Riverdale, NY,10471; tel. 718-548-5547)

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