M. L., ed. McDonough

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This is an anthology of poems written by physicians from ancient times through the early part of the 20th century. It includes a great variety of work: poems by well-known physician-writers like Oliver Goldsmith, John Keats, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and William Carlos Williams; poems by distinguished physicians who are not usually remembered as creative writers, such as Edward Jenner, Erasmus Darwin, S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell, and Sir Charles Sherrington; and others by currently little-known physicians.

In the Preface, the editor admits that the genre of "medical poetry" may not have very high standards. For example, she quotes one author as saying that it is generally "poetry in quotation marks and much of it is feeble stuff." However, poetic expression that arises from clinical experience has dignity and value insofar as it reflects "the spirit of helpfulness which gives to the medical profession its value to humanity." The last quotation is attributed by the editor to William Osler, although she cites no reference. Interestingly, the medical professor as reflected in this anthology is entirely male; of 110 poets represented, not one is a woman.

In an "Afterthought" the physician-poet Merrill Moore comments further on the theme of mixing medicine and poetry, presenting the literary equivalent of some insipid "pearls"; for example, "The way he writes is possibly a little different" and "the physician-poet does not quite reach the peaks of spiritual elation and emotional release . . . that a Byron or a Shelley achieves." Profound, huh?

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