Medical student, John Keats, helps hold down
patients, stifles their cries in surgery
while Dr. Lucas, "cack-handed surgeon,"
amputates. Lucas' surgeries "badly
performed and accompanied by much bungling
This is before anesthetics.
Some students faint; operating room
bloody as an abattoir seems even
more horrible when a woman or child's
on the table. Keats takes turn as doctor-
in-charge of night emergencies. Daily
dresses wounds: blood-soaked bandages, washed
and used again, unholy pus, the stench of
putrefaction. Germs not yet discovered.
There are no antiseptics.
Beloved professor, treats indigents
every morning. Teaches that "no single
correct medical idea has come
from conjecture alone." He demands
empirical evidence, true science.
Keats knows that literature's blood
must be proved on the pulse, too.
This is science and poetry.
Mrs. Brawne likes Keats,
but not as a prospect for Fanny's husband:
no job when he could be making a good living
as an apothecary-doctor.
She doesn't want her girl
to marry into the poverty of poetry.
Sam Brawne, Fanny's little brother,
thinks Keats is a hero, watched him attack
the butcher boy who was torturing a kitten.
Fanny hears Keats and Brown's boots
on the floor, their ribald laughter,
the clatter of pans from the kitchen
where the Irish girl, whom Brown seduced,
cooks their meals. She doesn't understand Keats,
friendly one day, withdrawn and severe the next.
He loans her books, is polite to her mother.
At first she thinks the new neighbor is handsome,
but too short, and too intense.
Only a thin wall between his half of the house
and the Brawne's. He can hear the murmur
of Fanny's voice, her mother's voice,
her little brother galloping his toy horses.
He listens for her footstep,
tries to be misogynist,
does not trust women or marriage
marks Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy,
but can't stop watching her
stroll in the garden. Burton says
love is "madness, a contagion…."
Dr. Keats knows contagion, knows he doesn't
want that, cannot prevent himself
from imagining her undressing,
her soft clothes
slipping down from her soft body.