Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


The Surgeon

One of my patients died today.

Strapped to a table
it was an inglorious death,
not that I've seen one that wasn't.

I've heard of them,
and I've heard of heroes,
and I've heard that how we die
is a measure of how we've lived.

Or do we just seem smaller lying down?

29 June 1988

I can’t imagine being a surgeon. Well, of course, I can imagine it. I have a good imagination. We watch doctor shows all the time—we’ve always got one on the go—but I don’t really like the operations. If you do and you haven’t seen it then check out CR:IT:IC:AL. It only lasted one season and the drama side of the show is a bit dreary and it’s very British but if you want to see how they de-impale a guy off crane spikes then this is your kind of show. Me, not so much. Give me Scrubs any day.

As for this poem, this is me trying to write ‘Mr Bleaney’ again, the last sentence of which goes:

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don't know.

I’ve no idea why this poem haunts me so. I’ve been reading it for over forty years and I’m happy to concede that it’s not Larkin’s finest but it’s a poem I’ve found impossible to shake. In 2010 I do finally get as close as I’m ever going to get to writing my own version. You can read it here. For the record it’s #1047.


Kass said...

You know I've always enjoyed the story-telling aspect of your poems. I 'simply' enjoy reading them.

What I especially enjoyed about this post was revisiting the 2010 one. Elisabeth, Rachel, Patteran, you...the people that I followed with such interest. I could recopy my comment and mean it all over again. Ah, Dave....I miss Dave, " swallow does not make a summer."

Jim Murdoch said...

Odd, Kass, I’ve never really thought of myself as a storyteller even in prose but certainly not in poetry. I was looking at the next poem I’m due to upload and, as per usual, haven’t a clue what I’m going to say about it but the one thing I did note was how much was missing from the poem. It’s like in ‘Mr Bleaney’. He’s not there. We don’t know what’s happened to him. And the same with the poem’s narrator. We learn precious little about him. It’s striking in fact how much work Larkin expects his readers to do. The evidence takes us only so far and the rest we have to imagine. Which I’m fine with.

So many comments on that last poem. Blogging used to be something else. What happened? I used to follow about 200 blogs at one time but little by little they’ve lost interest or I’ve lost interest. Only one that I know of has actually died. I do wonder how many who used to comment even read my blog any more and that saddens me because every now and then I write something that I know so and so would’ve had something to say about and there’s nothing. For a while it did feel like we were part of a community but I do wonder just how sustainable that notion is without face to face interactions. It takes so long to communicate in writing.

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