What the Doctor Said

Carver, Raymond

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry
Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
Chen, Irene
  • Date of entry: Mar-05-2002


Words rushing forth in a punctuationless stream, a patient describes how his doctor gives him the bad news of advanced lung cancer, and his reaction to it. There is an almost comical aspect as the doctor struggles to be both factual and sympathetic, and the patient struggles to absorb what he is being told. The doctor asks if the patient is able to find comfort and "understanding" from religion (since, apparently, he is unable to provide them). This triggers a brief poetic flight of fancy in the patient, but then he departs in a state of dazed politeness.


Although powerful in its own right, the poem takes on even greater significance because it was written after Carver was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. It is interesting to compare it with My Death, written earlier (see this database).

Primary Source

A New Path to the Waterfall


The Atlantic Monthly

Place Published

New York



Secondary Source

A New Path to the Waterfall