‘Any healthy man can go without food for two days – but not without poetry’ – Charles Baudelaire
Here at The Reader Organisation we firmly believe that reading poetry (and prose, too) in a group setting – such as the shared reading groups we run across the country – is beneficial for the reader’s mental health and wellbeing. Not only is it a social activity, but it is proven to increase group members’ self-confidence and self-understanding.
Our belief in literature has been reiterated by the Scottish medical community who, in collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library, have published Tools of the Trade, a poetry anthology which has been gifted to every graduate doctor in Scotland this year.
Whilst some of these poems specifically refer to medical life – Michael Rosen’s ‘These are the Hands’, and ‘A Medical Education’ by Glenn Colquhoun – many also deal with the ideas of moving on, moving forward, and dealing with difficult situations. These literary tools are not only invaluable for the mental health of the new doctors in providing a space to explore common medical situations (both humorous and serious), but there is also a focus on the patients’ view of medical life – and what doctors can do to improve this.
Arguably, many of the graduate doctors may never read the anthology; however its presence both in their lives, and the fact of its actual publication demonstrates how integral poetry is for a person’s wellbeing, regardless of their occupation, interests, or personal situation.
If you have recently graduated, recently overcome an obstacle, or just need a bit of a pick-me-up during the working week, you might find this poem to your liking (and may have heard it recited at a recent graduation ceremony):
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
W. E. Henley