Osler’s poetic prescription for doctors

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:  Having just now finished The Life of William Osler, Vol 2 ,  my heart is filled with the gratitude of one who has been gifted the fortune of “looking in on” greatness.  “Olser”, a name revered by most modern medical doctors, was also a man fully engaged in the effort to modernize the standard of care and to educate and support his profession. One of the ways to know a man is to know at what he laughs (Olser was a great practical joker) or to whom he resorts for inspiration  (the list of his “friends in the spirit”  is long, but much poetry he knew by heart)  and,  if his biographer, the great Harvey Cushing MD is to be credited, this work  shared below was considered a favorite and prescribed to students to learn by heart.  Dying of a pulmonary infection and wracked by incessant cough, he would greet his staff, cowed at the challenge of attending their Chief,  with this frequent assertion: “I had a good night and smell the rose above the mould this morning.”  When asked to explain, he replied that Thomas Hood’s Stanzas was  “a good poem for doctors, and all should know it.”  

 On Thanksgiving morning,  in gratitude, I share this Osler favorite, Thomas Hood’s 1845 poem, with my readers.




by Thomas Hood  1799-1845

Farewell life! my senses swim,

And the world is growing dim:

Thronging shadows cloud the light,

Like the advent of the night —

Colder, colder, colder still,

Upward steals a vapor chill;

Strong the earthy odor grows –

I smell the mould above the rose!


Welcome life! the spirit strives!

Strength returns and hope revives;

Cloudy fears and shapes forlorn

Fly like shadows at the morn, —

O’er the earth there comes a bloom;

Sunny light for sullen gloom,

Warm perfume for vapor cold —

I smell the rose above the mould!

April, 1845.





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *