In this chapter from late in his autobiography Williams focuses on his subjective experience in caring for patients. The unusual truthfulness of patients in need, their "coming to grips with the intimate conditions of their lives," inspires him both personally and artistically, as a poet. The things that patients reveal about themselves and about the human condition not only keep him going as a physician; they are the stuff of poetry, the human truths that lie beneath the "dialectical clouds" we construct to protect ourselves from contact in everyday life.


In this musing and rather poetic essay, Williams tries to explain how he managed two careers. The answer is that for him doctoring and writing were rooted in the same place, in a kind of privileged and energizing contact with realities that are normally hidden. The world outside medicine and poetry is very pale in comparison, in Williams's view, dulled by the falseness of self-protection and self-promotion.

It's strange, but the vision that emerges from this essay is almost the divided world of an addict, indescribable intensity versus unbearable flatness--a connection no doubt inspired by the highly gifted, drug-addicted subject of Williams's Old Doc Rivers, a physician whose frenzied approach to medicine seems linked to the boredom of the rural environment in which he practiced (see annotation in this database).


This essay appeared as a chapter in The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, copyright William Carlos Williams, 1951 (New Directions, 1967).

Primary Source

The Doctor Stories


New Directions

Place Published

New York




Robert Coles

Page Count