February 28, 2012

"Thomas Browne" by Kima Franklin


Skull of Thomas Browne


Like the poet of Paradise Lost, I was born 
     in Cheapside,
And I was raised under the shadow of 
     Paul’s Cross.
My father, a silk mercer, from his craft 
I learned color,  pigment, how to pattern 
     prose.
Style can make an Antiseptick to Decay.
With Thomas Clayton, ornament of Oxford medical men,
I lingered in Ashmole’s Ark. His Cabinet of Curiosities
Showed a mermaid’s hand and the pizzle of a dragon.

By my good wife I had ten children, of whom four lived,
And my delight was planting trees in groups of five.
Geometry and Anatomy were my Theology:
In an age of religious wars I diagnosed disease
Through the color of urine and timed the decay of tissue.
My Religion of a Doctor made me famous.
I loved Antiquities, like that Field of old Walsingham
Where were digged up forty-five urns,
In them two pounds of skulls, jaws, thigh-bones, and teeth.
Time which antiquates Antiquities and hath an Art 
To make dust of all things yet spared these minor Monuments.

I completed my own circle, dying on my 77th birthday.
Came the age of skull-duggery and they dug me up.
The sexton George Potter absconded with my skull,
Sold it to the surgeon Edward Lubbock, who
Deeded it to the Norwich Hospital Museum.
In 1922 Mancroft Church retrieved and reinterred it,
The vicar recording the age of the deceased as 317 years.
Who hath the Oracle of his Ashes
Or knoweth the Fate of his Bones?