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Poetry and Medicine
June 3, 1998


Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(21):1678T. doi:10.1001/jama.279.21.1678

What song the Syrens sang, or what name
Achilles assumed when he hid himself
among women, though puzzling questions
are not beyond all conjecture.
—Thomas Browne (1605-1682)

Their song is a generous wind
from the island's throat. Listen,
my friend. You must learn to forget
the violence you're accustomed to,
the years of hapless voyage.
At first you can't imagine
a respite from discipline,
from the petulant telephone
telling its worst—of intractable
pain, unthinkable dread.
A respite from Alfred,
who never met the therapist
you sent him to, not once.
From all the petty coughs
and silent screams you listen to.
From Richard's desperate chest—
he's lost his job, his energy,
his life. He doesn't know
where misfortune comes from—
but do something about it.
Your heart has claims of its own,
the Syrens sing. Abandon
discipline. Your body can't take
the knots it's tied in. Come closer,
we'll loosen them.