Sons and daughters of Aesculapius
from Doctor & Prof to Mr & Ms,
we the citizenry of Auld Reekie
celebrate your Quincentenary;
James IV bestowing, a year later,
his royal charter on your alma mater
letting you share courtly patronage
with Poetry, in Scotland’s Golden Age.
Lister’s pioneering torch passed down
from generation to generation,
long gone the allocation of ‘one
executed criminal for dissection
per annum’; George III’s benevolence
(sadly no cure as recompense);
and (smartly side-stepped) Dr Knox,
Burke and Hare his Box and Cox.
Respected world-wide as a cradle
of skill and learning Playfair Hall
merits its high repute, each bumper
crop from Kuwait to Kuala Lumpur
attuned on every medical topic
from cardiac to endoscopic,
divisions of race and nationhood
subsumed in close ties of the blood.
The Royal College still the hub,
illustriously you span the globe
from pole to pole … the scalpel
that glitters no mere symbol
but guided by the hand that sees,
a source of healing harmonies:
Wi’ hairt and micht we welcome ye
and offer earnest hopes for your prosperity.
About this poem
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh received its Seal of Cause from ‘the provost, baillies and council of the burgh of Edinburgh’ on 1 July 1505, during the reign of King James IV of Scotland. The College – its members and Fellows – has subsequently influenced surgical education, training, research and clinical practice throughout the world. The celebration of the College’s Quincentenary will cover all aspects of surgery but will also involve the humanities.
Edinburgh City Council appointed the first ‘Edinburgh Makar’ or poet laureate for the city in 2003. This appointment triggered the connection between the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Scottish Poetry Library. The College approached the Makar, Stewart Conn, proposing that he should write a poem of welcome for the delegates coming from all over the world to attend surgical conferences in Edinburgh during the Quincentenary. This proposal led to a much more ambitious project.
It was agreed that the Scottish Poetry Library (celebrating a mere 21 years of existence in 2005) would approach twenty eminent Scottish poets, inviting them to write poems inspired by visits to the College. This proved to be a commission that was truly inspirational. Some of the poets represented are doctors or have close medical connections. All have put their skill at the service of an extraordinary vision of what the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and surgery offers. They have seen the grisly and the glorious, both ancient and modern, in the College’s ‘black museum’ and library as well as observing surgery in practice. They have recalled the historical context of the profession as well as operations they have undergone themselves. Like a surgeon they have used ‘the hand that sees’, but in this case the writing hand that acts at the prompting of insight and imagination. The result is a collection of poems as curious and life-enhancing as one could wish.
We are most grateful to the poets for taking up the challenge; to Stewart Conn for applying his editorial skills to this anthology as well as penning his welcoming poem; to the College staff who hosted poets during their visits; to Max MacKenzie for his creative photography; to the design and production team at the College; to Moira Walker for keeping us on track; and to the Scottish Arts Council and The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland for their support of this publication – another unique pairing.
It has been a great pleasure working with all these contributors. We hope that readers of The Hand that Sees will be as entertained, fascinated and moved by the collection as we have been.
Robyn Marsack, Director, Scottish Poetry Library
Donald Macleod, The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh