Auden wrote this poem in memory of his own physician, Dr. David Protetch. He begins, "Most people believe / dying is something they do, / not their physician . . . " Auden, whose father was a physician, knows better. His father had warned him about doctors who are too aggressive or too concerned with money. Fortunately, he found a consultant who thought as his father did, perhaps because he (Dr. Protetch) had himself "been a victim / of medical engineers / and their arrogance, / when they atom-bombed / your sick pituitary / and over-killed it."

While prescribing for Auden’s minor complaints, Protetch himself was "mortally sick." Because of this, Auden felt that he could trust his doctor to tell him the truth about his medical condition: "if I were dying, / to say so, not insult me / with soothing fictions." Thus, Auden praises Protetch for having been, "what all / doctors should be, but few are . . . " [78 lines]


This poem demonstrates how craftsmanship can be so good that it becomes virtually invisible. Each of the 13 six-line stanzas has a perfect 5-7-5-5-7-5 syllabic pattern. The lines read flat and prose-like, but with poetic intensity and concision. The tone is professional, seemingly a model of detached concern; it becomes elegiac only near the end, "Dear David, / dead one, rest in peace . . . condign / of our biased affection / and objective praise."


This poem also appears in the anthology, On Doctoring, eds. R. Reynolds & J. Stone (New York: Simon & Schuster) 1991, 1995, 2001.

Primary Source

Collected Poems


Faber & Faber

Place Published