Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Hospitals from another time

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 04 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:d8349
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

In 1968, the year in which I became a medical student, a rather beautiful anthology of poetry titled Poems from Hospital was published. It was edited by a husband and wife who were teachers, Jean and Howard Sergeant; the latter was also a critic and poet. It contains poems by such famous poets as Dylan Thomas, W H Auden, T S Eliot, John Betjeman, Elizabeth Jennings, and Philip Larkin, but also many by poets of whom I, at any rate, had not heard.

The subject matter is, naturally enough, illness, death, pain, distress, compassion, indifference to suffering, and alleviation. Strangely enough the overall effect is not dispiriting, but one of consolation, even though “The ambulance will always call again,” to quote the opening line of …

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