Showing 11 - 20 of 21 annotations associated with Abse, Dannie
Summary:The doctor-speaker sets himself against "saintly" people who always "find the beautiful" in death and disasters. Allowing their "good point," he sides with the view that such things are "not beautiful." He ends with a strongly worded paradox: "[S]ometimes, I think that to curse is more sacred / than to pretend by affirming. And offend."
What is the nature of your country? the voice of authority asks. "Its frontiers keep changing," the refugee answers. ("Refugee," p. 72) For Dannie Abse the frontiers of imagination continue to expand, though he is more than a half century into the project of poetry. However, the nature of his country remains unchanged. That country includes medicine, literature, history, a Welsh and Jewish heritage, a strong narrative voice, and intelligent wit. As Stanley Moss writes on the back cover of Be Seated, Thou, the country also includes "mystery, moral sunlight, a gift for the simple truth."
Dannie Abse's earlier volume of Collected Poems was entitled White Coat, Purple Coat (1991) and represented his work from 1948 to 1988. The present volume includes two books of new poems that were published in England between 1989 and 1998: On the Evening Road (1994) and Arcadia, One Mile (1998).
This is a collection of autobiographical essays, most of them previously published in magazines or adapted from radio talks. "Return Ticket to Cardiff" describes Abse's pilgrimage in 1978 to visit the house in which he was born. "A Skull in the Wardrobe" and "Notes Mainly at the Clinic" draw upon the author's medical training and practice experience. Other pieces like "Pages from a Princeton Journal," "A Voice of My Own," and "Pegasus and the Rocking Horse" reveal Dannie Abse, the poet and writer.
The action takes place in 1968 at the offices and laboratories of a large pharmaceutical company. Dr. Michael Daly is replicating a series of psychological experiments purportedly designed to enhance the efficiency of learning. In these experiments the actual subjects are asked to inflict electric shocks on mock "subjects" who fail to give correct answers to mathematical problems.
The mock "subject" is ostensibly wired to an electric chair. In fact, she is really an actress pretending to be in pain. Even though she cries out in agony every time she makes a mistake, the actual subject--an ordinary person, who is just following instructions--pulls a switch that (he believes) gives her a progressively higher jolt of electricity.
The subjects almost invariably follow the evil instructions. In fact, one of them, Mr. Harley-Hoare, a sniveling and obsequious office worker, is truly outraged at Sally (the mock subject) for not learning faster. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the corporate world, this play re-explores the issue of personal responsibility for evil actions.
The action takes place in a mental hospital where Pythagoras is a patient. According to the medical authorities, Pythagoras is a small-time show-biz magician. The patient, however, believes that he is the REAL Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, and mystic. It certainly SEEMS that Pythagoras may have magical powers: when he points to the telephone, it rings; when he raises his hand to the sky, thunder claps.
Dr. Aquillus, the superintendent, has no sympathy with these pranks. The patients believe in his power, but even they sometimes question Pythagoras. For example, in response to the Greek's boast that "I was philosopher, mathematician and magician," one patient says, "You shoulda specialized, buster. You won't get anywhere unless you specialize." At this point Pythagoras responds that it is "difficult to wear both the white coat of science and the magician's purple one. You have to be--very great!" In the end Pythagoras is reduced to Tony Smith and the truth is revealed. Or is it?
This short, anecdotal autobiography begins with the author's birth in Cardiff in 1923 and ends in the mid-1960's when the author had become a successful writer and physician in London. Much of the story concerns Abse's childhood and youth. The theme is self-definition: how did it come about that, like Anton P. Chekhov, the young Dannie Abse chose to devote his life to "chasing two hares" (medicine and writing).
His lower middle-class Jewish parents, especially his father, found no redeeming social value in having a poet in the family. Influenced by his older brother Wilfred (who became a psychoanalyst), Dannie gravitated toward medicine as a career, although he almost fainted when he observed his first surgery.
When Dannie was a student in London, poetry energized his life. He published "After Every Green Thing," his first volume of poetry, while still in medical training (1949). He also met Joan, his future wife, in 1949 and they were married in 1951.
He was assigned to reading chest x-rays while serving his time in the Royal Air Force. Subsequently, Dannie took a part-time job as a civilian in the RAF chest clinic in London and began his dual career as chest physician and writer. Near the end of A Poet in the Family, Dannie describes the death of his father in Llandough Hospital in 1964.
The poet stands by the bed of his afflicted mother "as my colleague prepares the syringe." His mother's right hand is still moving, but her left hand is "suspiciously still." He thinks of Death's "random, katabolic ways: / merciful sometimes, precise, but often / wild as delirium."
Various images of suffering rise in his mind--a botched suicide, a victim of war, David and Bathsheba, out of whose suffering came forth "the wise child, the Solomon." But, he asks, "what will spring from this / unredeemed, needless degradation, / this concentration camp for one?" The colleague injects the medication, while Death victoriously holds the poet's mother's left hand and "I continue uselessly / to hold the other."
In the past, "tuberculosis" was a taboo word. The poet reviews the disease's many names and its history. John Keats said, "Bring me a candle, Brown. / That is arterial blood, I cannot be deceived / in that color. It is my death warrant."
For centuries so many died of tuberculosis; physicians were so impotent to help. Now, a patient accepts the fact that his chest x-ray has cleared as unremarkable, "as his right / and is right."
With sedative voices we joke and spar around Millie's bed. An aged woman, "all skull," whose only child died at age 77, she cries, "Let me die, let me die!" From the midst of delirium or dementia, she remarks, "the Angels of Death survive forever."
The poet wonders whether some of these Angels "are disguised as vagrants, assigned / to each of us . . . . " One of them must be Millie's date, but where is he? "Has he lost his way, has he lost his mind?" The poet half-expects to find him on the street, begging, playing his violin.
Summary:The narrator is watching his "grey-haired neighbor" starting on an early-morning run "anti-clockwise around the block," trying to turn the clock backwards in pursuit of youth and health. The narrator sees this as the age-old quest for virility, satirically recalling historic figures who sought to preserve or enhance their sexual prowess. But he recognizes that these are supremely human impulses--"Don't mock, only the young don't wish to be younger." He muses that perhaps the current fads of jogging and health food are better than some of the more gruesome practices in which mankind has been known to engage.