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Responses to “Anatomy of an Angel”, I: Poetry

October 30, 2011
Image from the Press Association via the Telegraph.

Damien Hirst's "Anatomy of an Angel" shown from the chest upwards: a white marble sculpture of a naked angel, looking down and to the right. Portions of the surface are cut away, as in an anatomy model, to reveal part of the skull, the muscles of the neck and shoulder, and the soft tissues of one breast. In the background, out of focus, is another of Hirst's works in the style of a stained-glass window.

The sinew, here, that stretches to sustain
the elegant inflection of the eye,
echoes the femur in the open thigh:
here one white axle-span, and here again,
the scaffolding of what we are, displayed.

The smooth-edged fissures in the marble skin
show off the subtle armatures within:
bones, organs, guts, immaculate, arrayed,
at once angelic, animal, machine.

Poised, as a dancer waits to start the scene,
with gaze turned down, obliquely, into space,
three-quarters of a head frames half a face

which, though serene, is not so beautiful
as are the silent contours of the skull.



4: axle-span is my translation of the Old English term eaxlegespanne, a unique compound found in the OE poem The Dream of the Rood. It comes from eaxle, ‘shoulder’ and gespann ‘joining, fastening, binding’; in context, it probably refers to the horizontal bar of the Cross.


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