From My Commonplace Book - 21 - more from the "father" of the nude mouse

Teaching About Diseases

by Miroslav Holub

Puppet diseases are tiny and thread-like, with funereal fur coats and huge ears. And little clawed feet.

There is no fever, just sawdust sifting from the sleeves.

Diarrhea is like intellectual melancholy.

Irregular heartbeats is like deathwatch beetles.

It doesn't look like a disease, just attentive listening, which falls over the eyes like a hood.

When the strings break, that's the end. Just a carved chunk of wood on the bank of the river Lethe. And at the crossing, the little green man signalling: Walk!

Chin up, shouts the puppet-master. We'll play Macbeth. Everyone kicks the bucket in that play anyway. And the remaining puppets line up obediently backstage and pour water out from their little booties.

Poet and immunologist Miroslav Holub (Czech, 1923-1998) developed the nude mouse, a valuable lab animal used in immune system research.

David Young and Dana Habova translated the above prose poem, which appeared in Holub's Intensive Care: Selected and New Poems.

Other poems by Miroslav Holub are at Commonplace blog entries 1 and 2.


Have to think about this a little longer Merry - just overcome by sad thoughts about the poor Lab mice giving their all for us - not easy I'm sure for anyone in medical research and the poem tells us so.
I think he may be referring to all/any disease he spent a lifetime trying to understand and allieviate in his field. That's Medicine and of course emotionally very human and involved in all the highs and lows of it. I've four Docs in my family whom I'm sure would recognise his feelings here.
Hi, Enid.

Four doctors in the family -- that's impressive. Doctors and other health care professionals have so much responsibility for so many lives, every day. I rather doubt that even if I were in good health I could bear that burden.

Miroslav Holub wrote many poems about diseases, real ones and ones he imagines, such as the diseases of puppets. The world he describes is often surreal.
Not a happy poem is it - don't think my brother/neices/nephew - not poets - would be quite so introspective about it all - they are just thoroughly overworked - happily I must say and blooming. All come across ME and as anxious as we as research comes in for the answer. And must slip in - blooming too Will and Kate - a wedding being much enjoyed in the UK at present. As an incapable participent - just lovely to sit and see.
Thanks Merry, and be happy too. I think it's the pastoral/lyricism of the poets we were brought up with - Thomas Gray, Oliver Goldsmith etc that have left an "indelible" mark. I find the "moderns" rather too full of "angst"- one does wonder why when there is so much to sing about - beauty etc.

Just as you had Obama in an historical change, we see Will and Kate changing the face of monarchy here. Everyone wishing them very well - may he sing.
Hi, Enid.

Are Will and Kate married yet? I haven't checked the news. (I'm rather afraid of being overwhelmed with the coverage.) Here's to a happy life for Kate and Will.

Anyway, back to poetry. I don't see "Teaching About Diseases" as a particularly dark poem. I appreciate Miroslav Holub's wit in the clever descriptions of symptoms and the wit in his imagining this world of puppets and puppet master.

Miroslav Holub kept his sense of humor despite the suffering of others he confronted in his work in medicine and despite the difficulties imposed upon him living in a Communist regime (the government suppressed his writing).

But I appreciate writers with much darker personalities and views of the world than his.

And I can't agree that 20th and 21st century poets are more full of angst than earlier writers.

Just how happy was the man who wrote Macbeth?

I hope this feels like a friendly discussion to you, Enid. I am truly grateful to you for your interest in what I post, and I very much like the person revealed in your comments.
Hi Merry, I've only just recovered from THE wedding (an all day watching events) and delightful too - a real love match.

Each to their own in thoughts here - living under an oppressive communist regime must have been at the very least terrifying and of course as we know murderous at worst.

I wouldn't like to speculate about Shakespeare's happiness (scholars are still trying to find the "man" - disappearing years etc. and he lived at a none too secure time if you happened to be on the wrong side, much in and out of favour, conspiracies, thought likely to be RC etc). But his particular genius was the understanding/portrayal of the very worst in human nature - "all the world a stage", rising above it - "we are such stuff as dreams are made on" - together with sublime lyrical sonnets. His happiness/joy/love/delight (call it what you will) in the natural world uplifts.

But don't let my thoughts upset your pleasures at all - we've all enough problems without that.
Hi, Enid.

To the most pressing matter first: I loved Pippa Middleton's dress!

And as for William Shakespeare -- I chose him partly because of his distance from the present day but mainly because Macbeth is mentioned in the above poem.

I do appreciate your thoughts, and please know that you have said nothing that has upset my pleasures. We do indeed all have problems, and my aim here is not to add to anyone's suffering by what I post in this blog. I worry about this, and because you have always been so kind, I worry in particular about you.

Now back to looking at the wedding photos.
Merry - a little poem you may know, not relating to mice but today's news of the demise of a "tyrant". Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said : "Two vast and headless trunks of stone
Stand in the desert.....Near them, on the stand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, a sneer of cold command
Tell that it's sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty and despair !"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away"

Let's hope so.
I hope your coverage of the Wedding showed two amusing incidents - the cartwheeling lay verger down the aisle of Westminster Abbey after the service in delight and a policeman marshalling the aimiable one million gathered outside the Palace break into a music hall act by pretending to dance (crowd much approved).
Thank you, Enid, for reminding us -- especially on this day -- of Percy Shelley's wonderful poem.

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