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Poetry and medicine may appear an unnatural partnership and it is thought by some that poetry on medical subjects is a modern development. However there is a tradition linking poetry and medicine at least as old as the ancient Greeks. Their God Apollo was associated with medicine and healing, poetry, music and dance. Formal discussion of medical themes in poetry dates at least to the Roman poet Lucretius, writing in the first century BC. The scientific and philosophical subjects he covered in his 6 book treatise on the nature of things, De rerum natura,1 include discussion of biological processes such as digestion and sleep (Book 4), and a harrowing account of plague (Book 6).
In the two thousand years since Lucretius, poetry has included medical subjects of every description, from Robert Burns's ‘Address to the Tooth-Ache’, to the Australian poet A. D. Hope's 1967 ‘On an Engraving by Casserius’, to Philip Larkin's observation of ambulances going about their daily missions in the streets where we all live. Burns's curse must have been echoed by many toothache sufferers down the years:
My curse on your envenom'd stang …
Wi' gnawing vengeance;
Tearing my …
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