Art & Poetry in Medicine
Leave a comment

Meditations on Medicine

Requiem for the Cadavers

Speak to me, Yorick, speak to me man,
or woman of old, whose femur I hold in hand,
whose skull I study as if the Holy Bible, every
notch and fossa once filled with living fiber!

I know you more intimately than did your mother,
caressing in my hand thine wristbones, looking
within the capsule of your knee, prying open
former seat of your intellect, searching for knowledge.

All the rest have found it fit to join the ground,
undisturbed in their long slumber, but for thine
spiritless flesh a restless toil you have assigned,
to be the book and mentor of ten thousand physicians.

For what greater script there is but that writ in the womb,
by Hand of God, an image of beauty and perfection
set within the mortal body, holding within itself
whole realms of wisdom for those called to heal.

That the dead should teach the living life’s secrets,
that in disease we should know the face of health,
that in agony we should see hope of true ecstasy,
and in suffering some salvation: that is the lesson.

Yea, from these morbid halls all others would rather
stay afar, but we must dip our minds in this Styx,
to be made like Achilles, all round heroic, but more:
to emerge with hearts made courageous by knowledge!

For even Achilles was felled by a single sure shot,
but we, we must bear the heavy burdens of life
and death, give soon counsel on affairs between
Heaven and Earth, where man no longer exists — but lives.

Library of Life

I am a priest in the Library of Life.
Every day I cross the threshold of
life and death, to look upon the
holy scroll laid bare before me.

I read them by sight and sound,
the beating of their heart and
the twinkle in their eye. It is they,
the sick and dying, who teach me life.

Yea, upon the altar of their bed
I learn the healing art, and touch
the very Body of God. I see all round
me, Golgotha and the saving Cross.

But there is one holy of holies
unworthy for me to disturb:
Christ is in the tabernacle of a kiss,
comforting both the healthy and sick.

Oh, would you know what
honest, hope-filled prayers these
walls have heard, and how many
were answered — every single one.

Here Jesus opened paradise to all
who turned to Him, dying with
them once more, a blank ceiling
turned to limitless hosts of the blessed.

Thus the empty bed is as the
empty tomb of Christ — the promise
of eternal life. That is the great truth
I learned in these sacred library halls.

The Divine Physician

I saw Jesus walk down the hospital hallway,
He came to visit me at my work, as I was
listening to a patient’s heart, He strode in
the escort of a priest, in True Body and Blood.

As I knelt before my Lord, He took over
where I left, and touched the suffering body
of His beloved disciple, imprisoned here
upon the sickhouse bed, away from home.

He gave me, His servant, blessing for the night,
that my mind may stand firm in wisdom,
my hand stay firm in the labor of healing,
to be faithful in the fateful hour to come.

Blood Most Precious that runneth through
our hearts, give life to our hungry hearts,
cleanse from disease that which by our art
cannot be touched: the soul by sin burdened.

Body Most Precious, make us strong again
in virtue, to love in time and bear with courage
the hardships of our days, for Your great glory,
shining in Your compassion for our frail lives.

How many times I have not seen You, Lord,
wandering upon this Golgotha, which so many
ascend to never descend therefrom again among
the living — You, Lord, alone keeping vigil?

This place, I know, You made Your second
tabernacle, for I touch Your Holy Body and
glorify Your Holy Blood every time I touch
my sick brothers and sisters, giving them care.

Final Blessing

The world is not merely the flesh we heal, but
first and foremost the spirit which makes it whole,
the mind crowned with dreams which illuminate
tomorrow, and the wonder of the star-studded sky.

Baptized in the sweat of our brow, in the blood of
our patients, there is no journey that can compare:
it was this singular path in the story of the cosmos
that was given for us to share, with unending laughter.

Remember, o remember, how much we have changed,
living as it would seem another life with each passing year,
the friends that became family, throughout the world,
whose best parts we have woven into the fibers of our soul.

Take courage on the cusp of greatness, from humility,
recall who led you to the golden gates of happiness,
how many brothers and sisters were gained along the way,
how many sons and daughters await your guiding hand.

Do not tire in compassion, nor regret the struggle,
to grow in perfection is the pain of our eternal birth.
Draw always strength from gratitude, let their joy
beget your own, for this is your destiny fulfilled.

There are things important, and things most important,
there is sleep and then there’s duty, there is night
and then there’s morn, bringing life and relief to the ward,
the rosy ray which saw our oath once again achieved.

Go forth, and wage the sacred war against the dark,
against disease and death gain but an endless hour more,
for with you is the Lord of Life, the Victor Invincible,
in Whom you found blessing being true to your call.

A Resident’s Prayer

O my Jesus, Divine Physician, Lord of Life,
lead me through the darkness of the night,
surround me with those able to raise me when I fall.
Where my knowledge fails, let others teach me,
where my vigilance fails, let others warn me,
where my judgment fails, let others correct me.
Arm me, o God, in the shining mantle of humility,
that standing before the awesome mystery of life,
I may thereby learn to serve my brothers and sisters,
gaining from them the wisdom of the healing arts.
And when the rosy light of dawn touches my eye,
let it be Your merciful Will that I may give You
thanks, honor, and glory, knowing that I have not
lost a single soul entrusted to my care by Your love.


Adrian Poniatowski, MD Adrian Poniatowski, MD (3 Posts)

Resident Physician Contributing Writer

University Hospital of Krakow, Poland

Adrian Poniatowski is native New Yorker and a physician poet. He studied history at Cornell University before going on to finish medical school in Poland at Jagiellonian University. He received an appointment to stay on at his alma mater as Lecturer in Pathophysiology, in addition to his duties as an intern physician at the University Hospital of Krakow, Poland. He draws inspiration from his Catholic faith and long walks spent meditating on the sublime beauty of daily life. His artistic motto is Ars neptis Dei, a paraphrase from the Divine Comedy proclaiming that “Art is the granddaughter of God.”