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Poetry and Medicine
May 27, 1998

Spleen (No. 77)

JAMA. 1998;279(20):1590B. doi:10.1001/jama.279.20.1590

Splenic translations and variations
(after Baudelaire)

I am like the king of a rainy country,
rich, but impotent, young and nevertheless ancient,
who, contemptuous of his brown-nosing tutors,
bores himself with his dogs and his other beasts.
Nothing amuses him, neither gamebird nor falcon,
not even the subjects dying beneath his balcony.
The poet laureate's most grotesque ditty
doesn't animate the features of this cruel invalid.
His fleur-de-lised bed has become his tomb,
and even the courtesans, to whom every prince is fair,
can no longer find lingerie exotic enough
to pull a leer from this young skeleton.
The wise man who fashioned him from gold
never could refine out all the impurities,
and not even an old-fashioned Roman blood bath, the sort
about which all potentates, in their dotage, reminisce,
could rewarm that dazed cadaver
in whom, instead of blood, the green water of Lethe flows.
I'm like the god with features bright as gold
(well-paid, powerless, infantile and old)
who scorns his white-coat colleagues' obsequies,
preferring to consort with poetries.
Nothing amuses him, not gout or flu,
not wards of patients requiring a Code Blue.
The wildest case report, replete with gore
and exotic bacteria: quel bore.
His diploma'ed office has become a tomb,
Cartoon nurses couldn't pierce his gloom
with white starched bosoms, adulating sighs,
and nylon skirts ascending sleek, white thighs.
Mentors plucked him squalling from pre-med.
He should have stuck with English Lit instead.
No brilliant diagnosis or great case
can animate his masked and stony face—
Leptospirosis cannot wake the dead.
(He quaffs from River Lethe, takes to bed.)

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