Bacon, Bones and Pelicans: A Selection of Poems Found in Scotland's Medical Collections
In honour of World Poetry Day, we wanted to share some of the poems found in the collections across the Scotland and Medicine Network.
Poetry is probably not what first comes to mind when you think of medical history collections. However, over the years a number of patients, nurses and other medical practitioners have used poetry to document their experiences in medicine and the events happening around them.
You'll find a selection of these poems below along with links to the resources to find more.
Convalescing Soldiers Jottings, Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums
Currently on display in the Paradise Lost exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery, this album of autographs was compiled by Jeannie L Daniel, who is assumed to have been a nurse at Oldmill Hospital (later Woodend) in Aberdeen.
Around Christmas 1916, recuperating soldiers left their mark in Jeannie's autograph book and what survives is a touching memento of wartime.
The soldiers at the hospital signed their names, wrote poetry, and drew cartoons and sketches in Jeannie's autograph book, which probably helped relieve some of the tedium associated with long-term hospital care. The poetry entries range from reciting well-known limericks to composing a touching original poem to Jeannie as seen in the images below.
'A funny old bird is the Pelican' in Convalescing Soldiers' Autographs, Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums
Poem to Jeannie in Convalescing Soldiers' Autographs, Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums
The entire album is available as a digital resource on the Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums' website for you to flick through.
The Craigleith Chronicle, Lothian Health Services Archive
Craigleith Poorhouse was founded in 1868 and served the St Cuthbert’s district of Edinburgh. It included an Infirmary for the care of sick paupers. Between 1914 -19 the Poorhouse was taken over as a military hospital and renamed the 2nd Scottish General Hospital, Craigleith.
The "Craigleith Chronicle" served as the Hospital’s wartime magazine and the pages of its 36 issues were filled with stories, diary extracts, sketches, artwork and poetry from various members of the hospital community. Famous Scottish poets such as Hamish Mann were heavily involved in its publication.
This poem takes its inspiration from a newspaper article stating rationing in Berlin had led to offerings of oils, fats and butter becoming the height of romance. J. S. M. ran with it, penning this poem on how to woo a woman with bacon!
'War-Time Wooing' in the Craigleith Chronicle c.1915 , Lothian Health Services Archive
Stirling Royal Infirmary Nurses League Magazine
The Nurses’ League at SRI was established in 1947 ‘to form a bond of fellowship between all Nurses who have trained or held appointments at the Infirmary.’ All members were encouraged to contribute to its annual magazine.
As well as the practical matters of the Nurses' League (its constitution, subscription costs and list of committees as well as notices of births, deaths and marriages and qualifications). The magazine also included contributions from its members like commentaries on new medical equipment and research, photographs, travelogues from members' trips abroad and even some poetry.
E. P. Brown submitted this poem to the first issue in 1948 and it undoubtedly gave the nurses a giggle.
Stirling Royal Infirmary Nurses League (1948), University of Stirling Archives
The magazines are held within the NHS Forth Valley Archive based at the University of Stirling. The archive holds an incomplete run from 1948-1980 and which has been digitised and made available to researchers on JSTOR.
Hopefully you enjoyed these poems from across the Scotland and Medicine Network's Collections. Please get in touch if you use any of the resources linked and find any more poems you want to share!