Texts on collections of specimens.


".... They've taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air."

Seamus Heaney, from Bogland.

"I found a pigeon's skull on the machair,
All the bones pure white and dry, and chalky,
But perfect,
Without a crack or a flaw anywhere.
At the back, rising out of the beak,
Were domes like bubbles of thin bone,
Almost transparent, where the brains had been
That fixed the tilt of the wings."

Hugh Macdiarmid, Perfect. On the Western Seaboard of South Uist .

"And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When the bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot......"

from Dylan Thomas, And Death shall have no Dominion .

"Here's the mould of a musical bird long passed from light
Which over the earth before man came was winging;
There's a contralto voice I heard last night,
That lodges in me still with its sweet singing.
Such a dream is Time that the coo of this ancient bird
Has perished not, but is blent, or will be blending
Mid visionless wilds of space with the voice that I heard,
In the full-fugued song of the universe unending."

Thomas Hardy, In a Museum.

"I found a spectacular moth marooned in a corner of a vestibule window, and my mother dispatched it with ether. In later years I used many killing agents, but the least contact with the initial stuff would always cause the porch of the past to light up and attract that blundering beauty. Once, as a grown man, I was under ether during appendectomy, and with the vividness of a decalcomania picture I saw my own self in a sailor suit mounting a freshly emerged Emperor moth under the guidance of a Chinese lady who I knew was my mother. It was all there brilliantly reproduced in my dream, while my own vitals were being exposed : the soaking , ice-cold absorbent cotton pressed to the insect's lemurian head; the subsiding spasms of its bodies; the satisfying crackle produced by the pin penetrating the hard crust of its thorax; the careful insertion of the pin in the cork-bottomed groove of the spreading board; the symmetrical adjustment of the thick-veined wings under neatly affixed strips of semitransparent paper...."

from Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory ,


This rat looks like it is made of marzipan
Soft and Neatly packaged in its envelope;
I shake it free.
Fingering the damp, yellow fur, I know
That this first touch is far the worst.
There is a book about it that contains
Everything on a rat, with diagrams
Meticulous, but free from blood
Or all the yellow juices
I will have to pour away.
Now peg it out:
My pins are twisted and the board is hard
But, using force and fracturing its legs
I manage though
And crucify my rat.
From the crutch to the throat the fur is ripped
Not neatly, not as shown in the diagrams,
But raggedly:
My hacking has revealed the body wall
As a sack that is fat with innards to be torn
By the inquisitive eye
And the hand that strips aside.
Inside this taut, elastic sack is a surprise;
Not the chaos I had thought to find,
No oozing mash; instead of that
A firmly coiled discipline
Of over-lapping liver, folded gut;
A neatness that is like a small machine -
And I wonder what it is that has left this rat,
Why a month of probing could not make it go again,
What it is that has disappeared...
The bell has gone; it is time to go for lunch.
I fold the rat, replace it in its bag,
Wash from my hands the sweet
Smell of meat and formalin
And go and eat a meat pie afterwards.
So, for four weeks or so, I am told
I shall continue to dissect this rat;
Like a child
Pulling apart a clock he cannot mend.

Colin Rowbotham, Dissection .

"..I would find by the edge of that water
The collar bone of a hare
Worn thin by the lapping of water,
And pierce it through with a gimlet, and stare
At the old bitter world where they marry in churches,
And laugh over the untroubled water
At all who marry in churches
Through the white thin bone of a hare.

from W.B.Yeats, The Collar-bone of a Hare .


"Frederick Ruysch's anatomical museum at Amsterdam, c1700," No serious attempt is made towards a scientific classification of animals or organs, or to build up a system of philosophic anatomy. In place of this preparations are arranged, not to illustrate any principal of biological science, but to produce a picturesque effect. A skeleton balances an injected spermatic plexus in one hand and a coil of viscera in another; minatory assortments of calculi of all sizes and shapes occupy the foreground ; in the rear an assortment of injected vessels backed by an inflated and injected tunica vaginalis combine to form a grotesque arboreal perspective; another skeleton in extremis is grasping a specimen of that emblem of insect mortality, the mayfly, and a third is performing a composition 'expressing the sorrows of mankind on a violin symbolised by a bundle in injected arteries and a fragment of necrotic femur. Bones are arranged to represent a cemetery, wrists are adorned with organic and injected frills, and human, comparative and pathological exhibits are indiscriminately mingled as the exigencies of space require."
from Ruthven Todd, Tracks in the Snow.