Of Medicine and Poetry

Williams, William Carlos

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Annotated by:
Woodcock, John
  • Date of entry: Oct-29-2002


In this chapter (no. 43) from his autobiography, Williams seeks to describe the poetry of medicine, the almost indescribable quality (Williams frequently refers to it as "it" and "the thing") that draws him to his practice. Clearly it is not anything medical-technical. He particularly disparages surgery and the idea that you can cure by merely cutting. Rather, it involves seeing each patient as "material for a work of art"(287), by which he seems to mean a natural showing of strong character or selfhood under pressure of difficulty. In a strong central passage Williams calls medicine "the thing which gained me entrance to these secret gardens of the self"(288).


For Williams, "it" seems be connected to the earthy, relatively simple actions of the poor and unsophisticated urban immigrants who were his chosen patients. Williams seems constitutionally attracted to his patients' roughness and crudity, in the simplicity of which he finds "perfection"(288). This view may be found in many of Williams' stories and, with a more explicit critique of modern culture, also in The Practice which is annotated in this database.

Primary Source

The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams


New Directions

Place Published

New York