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    Not to wax poetic . . .

    What this nation’s winter has in common with health-care reform

    Dr. McDonnell

    “Thus having prepared their buds

    against a sure winter

    the wise trees

    stand sleeping in the cold.” —William Carlos Williams

    Thanks to the Polar Vortex, this has been a harsh—some might say cruel—winter in my little town that sits along the border between North and South.

    Thankfully, we have the poetry of William Carlos Williams to help get us through these frigid days—reminding us that winter is a time of peace, and that the wise trees of Baltimore have prepared their buds and will soon bring forth a beautiful and fragrant springtime.

    Williams was a physician who practiced in Paterson, NJ. He took care of patients by day and wrote poetry in the evenings. Although he was only a part-time poet, he won the first National Book Award for Poetry in 1950, was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1963, and—like all the true greats—was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009.

    Although many of us physicians might view his two careers as not an obvious fit—with most medical students these days having been science majors in school—Williams considered the pairing to be a natural one.

    He said: “When they ask me, as of late they frequently do, how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing.”

    This feeling that medicine and the poem are the same is reflected in these lines by Williams, in which we can imagine that he is reflecting equally on the effect of winter’s arrival on the leaves and on the effect of advancing age on an elderly patient who is encountering the frailty that comes in the winter of life.

    “Some leaves hang late, some fall

    before the first frost—so goes

    the tale of winter branches and old bones.”


    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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