Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Safety in death

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 18 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3001
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

There is little doubt that an early death does no harm to a poet’s posthumous reputation. Dylan Thomas died at 39; Byron at 36; Shelley at 29; Keats at 24; Chatterton at 17. They died respectively of drink and cerebral haemorrhage, sepsis after venesection with a dirty lancet, drowning, tuberculosis, and arsenic poisoning, either suicidal or a self administered cure for venereal disease. It almost seems as if poetry were, one way or another, as hazardous an occupation as bomb disposal or Thai boxing; perhaps occupational health should look into it.

Rupert Brooke died aged 27 in 1915, and his books immediately went through many impressions: more, I suspect, than if he had survived. His most famous poems are the five sonnets he …

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