Elegy for an Unborn Child

Leonardo da Vinci’s Observations of Anatomy

The pain struck like an arrow through her heart
it seared, not in her abdomen, but went
deep into boundless space that was her soul
and crushed the core of her maternity.

Her eyes were opened wide like deep, dark pools
that sucked the infinite black universe inside.
The intensity and magnitude of this black hole
reversed her on a journey through her life
to the sweetness of a swollen milk-filled breast
and, through the final torment of her birth,
the comfort of her mother’s endometrium,
then lightness of her being… and the dark.

Her Mother, hearing shrill but plaintive cry,
without a blink, moved swiftly to its cause.
Another voice cried out across her skin
that crept with her protective fear and dread.

A rush to help from an unexpected source;
a man they called the Master, but recluse,
had seen the woman clutch an endless wall
and ghosted very quickly to her side.

Mater dolorosa wept her plea
to hold her daughter’s infant in her arms,
to do what would be thought unthinkable.
Averting gaze, he nodded silently,
and tenderly, eyes moistened with compassion
as he observed the fineness of the down
caressing her epidermis, with his hands
he felt the smoothness of her olive skin.
Observing how dividing muscle ridges
instructed his decision where to start,
his blade he moved with care, so not to frighten.
The Master made his exquisite incision.

Through tender loin of human deprivation, he
un-peeled the skin from the fruit of labour lost.
Whilst Mother, crying, yearned to hold her child,
he wrote and drew the image in his mind.

The infant, sobbing on its tucked up knees,
as if it knew that there was no escape,
from this incarceration, its place of rest.

In Memoriam L.d.V.

© 2012 John Anstie

(This poem was submitted to the Poetry Society for their Summer 2012 Members poems. The theme was the observations of anatomy by Leonardo da Vinci)

About PoetJanstie

“Life is short and art long, the crisis fleeting, experience penniless and decision difficult” ~ Hippocrates. As a young man, John was sporting and fit. It was then as much his recreational therapy as a cappella harmony singing, music, walking in the hills and writing is now. Playing Rugby Union for over twenty years, encouraged in the early days by a school that was run on the same lines and ethos as that famous Scottish public school, Gordonstoun, where our own headmaster had been as a senior master. This gave shape and discipline to a sometimes precarious early life. His fitness was enhanced not only by playing rugby, but also by working part time jobs in farming, as a leather factory packer and security guard, but probably not helped, for a short time, selling ice cream! His professional working life was spent as a Metallurgical Engineer, Marketing Manager, Export Sales Manager, Implementation Manager and Managing Director of his own company. Thirty five years spent, apparently in a creative desert, raising a family, pursuing a career and helping to pay the bills, probably enriched his experience, because his renaissance, on retirement, realised a hidden creative talent as a writer of prose and poetry. He also enjoys music, with a piano and a fifty-two year old Yamaha FG140 acoustic guitar. He sings bass in three a cappella harmony groups: as a founding member of a mixed voice chamber choir, Fox Valley Voices and barbershop quartets. He is also a member of one of the top barbershop choruses in the UK, Hallmark of Harmony (stage name of the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club), who, for the eighth time in 41 years, became UK Champions in 2019. He is also a would be (once upon a time or 'has been') photographer with drawers full of his own history, and an occasional, but lapsed 'film' maker. In his other life, he doubles as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend and Family man. What he writes is sometimes autobiographical, often political, sometimes dark and frequently pins his colours to the mast of climate change and how a few humans are trashing the Earth. In 2013, he published an anthology of the poetry (including his own) of an international group of poets, who met on Twitter in 2011. He produced, edited and steered the product of this work, "Petrichor Rising", to publication by Aquillrelle. His sort of strap-line reads: “ iWrite iSing iDance iChi iVolunteer ”
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20 Responses to Elegy for an Unborn Child

  1. Quirina says:

    This is a very intense and sensitive poem about life and death wrapped into one, which is what birth entails. In the past (and definitely in the day of Leonardo da Vinci), mothers and or their babies often lost their lives during birth. Today we have medical intervention to be grateful for.

    You capture many elements of life and that of death in this poem in meaningful layers of depth. I couldn’t help associating a caesarian surgical procedure with your description, which I have experienced three times (for the first one it was not really a choice, because my life depended on it).

    In my humble opinion I did not find your poem perverse at all.


  2. Jo-Anne Teal says:

    I left a comment several weeks ago, John, but it doesn’t seem to have gone through. So for this comment, I’ll just say something quite simple: breathtaking. You’ve somehow pulled together the heartbreak of the maternal bloodline, the invoking of Mary, and the artistry of Leonardo’s autopsy. Renaissance.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Jo-Anne, I’ve just found your earlier comment, which, for some reason, was waiting approval and I missed it. I have replied to it in full. Fact I’ve been so busy is no excuse; I should have spotted, because I treasure meaningful and heartfelt comments on my work, as I’m sure you know does every writer. Thank you so much, for saying such lovely things.


  3. 1emeraldcity says:

    This is my 3d try to comment. I’ll give up after this one. This was a masterful, thoughtful, and sensitive take on a very dark event. Well done, John!


  4. 1emeraldcity says:

    This is my second try to comment. A sensitive and thoughtful poem surrounding a very dark event. Masterfully done!


  5. 1emeraldcity says:

    If ever such a frightening and dark event could inspire such thoughtful and sensitive words…you’ve done it here John. I’ll be haunted by this poem for a long time. Masterfully done!


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Oh Fu! Louise described this as a ‘masterpiece’, now you Fu, you say it is ‘Masterful’. I am truly touched and elevated by these comments. It’s a shame you lot weren’t the judges for this competition 😉


  6. Louise says:

    I can only agree with Peter…beautifully & sensitively written, John…a masterpiece. xx


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Goodness, Lou, a masterpiece! That’s the first time anyone’s described a piece of my writing in such elevated terms.. I think I’ll put that in my scrap book for posterity. Thank you very much.


  7. goingforcoffee says:

    John, I’m sorry that I hadn’t read this until today. I read Peter’s poem based on the same theme and then came over to your site.

    You have captured, very beautifully, the torment of a woman losing her lineage. We often think about men, following in father’s footsteps or carrying on the family name; but, there is a distinctly female version of this hope, this passing of the generations, which is so closely aligned to history’s image of Mary’s pain.

    I understand this is about Leonardo and his important rendering of something so … well, I can’t find the word for it…but truly, the ‘model’ he used to realize the image is what makes this so heartbreakingly real.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Jo-Anne, a thousand apologies for my oversight, and blessings on you for making such a meaningful comment on this poem. It is special and yes I agree, a man’s heritage and his progeny are no more important than the woman’s bond to her sons and daughters. However common miscarriage is, I know for sure how much heartbreak and grief it causes, for both men and women. I know this to be true, because my wife has worked for most of her life in this area of medicine, particularly recurrent miscarriage and I know how wrung out she is sometimes when she gets home from a day of counselling patients.

      Fact that in Leonardo’s time any such event would more often than not be fatal, makes this so poignant and real. Fact that part of his genius was his ability to observe and record such ground breaking discovery and sad to say that his observations could only have been made on cadavers; he would therefore have acquired the skills of a mortician, surgeon and pathologist rolled into one.

      Thank you so much again, Jo-Anne.


  8. Having miscarried twice John, this coming from a male pen really hit the nail on it’s head. When you’re pregnant it’s more than incubation, you carry the hopes, dreams and aspirations of another person who’s basically your heart on the outside of your body. Well penned and sensitive x


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Shan, I am very touched that you’ve taken time to comment on a difficult subject and even more so that you found it worthy. I admit that my imagination (and this is obviously a totally fictional creation) went a step further in accepting that LdV would only have been able to construct his ‘observation’ using cadavers and so I’m afraid I had to make the mother die in the process! Whatever may be, I appreciate your comment very much.


  9. kenhume79 says:

    Reblogged this on Ken Hume.


  10. tashtoo says:

    John…there are some amazing lines laced throughout this…the read is flawless, and honestly, my mind wants to race down numerous avenues in regards to the inspiration for the write…


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Natasha, thank you for taking your precious time to read and comment. Yes, LdV is very inspiring, such was his genius, but for this (totally fictional) story, whilst rather perverse, I just imagined him, on the one hand, as a bit of a recluse, on the other as a man capable of great feeling and compassion. As you say, so much inspiration in this subject alone.


  11. peterwilkin says:

    Beautiful & sensitively composed poem, John ~*


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Peter, thank you. I’m glad you’ve visited and commented.

      I honestly don’t think many people will like or ‘get’ this, because I feel the perspective from which I wrote it, is slightly but not deliberately perverse. Did it make sense to you?


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