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Poetry and Medicine
November 4, 2009

Pantoun on Lines by William Osler

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2009;302(17):1844. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1505

I propose to explain the secret of life,
said the professor, enjoying a joke.
The grace of humility is a precious gift.
Uncertainty pertains to our hopes and fears.
Said the professor, relishing a joke,
Cultivate, gentlemen, the art of detachment.
Amid fear of uncertainty, hope remains.
Obtuseness applies in judicious measure.
Cultivate, gentlemen, the art of detachment;
that is, an external view from within,
applying your obtuseness judiciously.
The past is with us, never to be escaped.
To adopt an external view from within
is necessary, but difficult to attain.
The inescapable past remains with us.
Its gentle influence makes life worth living.
How necessary, but difficult, to attain
a steady foothold for our stricken souls
and the gentleness that makes life worth living.
The faculties upon which we all depend
pace unsteadily through our stricken souls,
bringing disappointment and perhaps failure.
The faculties upon which we all depend
(Oh, that I had the heart to spare you grief!)
disappoint us in the end, and my failure
to teach you the secret of life and explain
my heart more fully may have caused you grief.
The grace of humility is a precious gift.

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