On its 70th Anniversary of we celebrate the foundation of the UK National Health Service with the final reading of our current season. Happy Birthday NHS!

A big thank-you to all of our medical readers, to our colleagues at Scottish Poetry Library who have helped with tricky legal matters about securing permissions, and most of all to everyone who has watched and listened to the readings.  We hope to be back again before long with some new readings, and perhaps some other new additions to the project. If you have any suggestions or comments you would like to make, we’d be delighted to hear from you, please get in touch.

This poem is part of the Poems for doctors project. You can find out more about the project here.

Season 2 : poem 8

Hospital trainee doctor Chris Lowe reads Night Sister by Elizabeth Jennings

Night Sister

Elizabeth Jennings

How is it possible not to grow hard,
To build a shell around yourself when you
Have to watch so much pain, and hear it too?
Many you see are puzzled, wounded; few
Are cheerful long. How can you not be scarred?

To view a birth or death seems natural,
But these locked doors, these sudden shouts and tears
Graze all the peaceful skies. A world of fears
Like the ghost-haunting of the owl appears.
And yet you love that stillness and that call.

You have a memory for everyone;
None is anonymous and so you cure
What few with such compassion could endure.
I never met a calling quite so pure.
My fears are silenced by the things you’ve done.

We have grown cynical and often miss
The perfect thing. Embarrassment also
Convinces us we cannot dare to show
Our sickness. But you listen and we know
That you can meet us in our own distress.

Rights: from Collected Poems ed Emma Mason (Carcanet Press Ltd, 1987) by permission of David Higham Associates

A moderated Facebook group hosts discussion for medics and others who would like to follow up on ideas arising from ‘Poems for Doctors’.

To ask to join, or add to the discussion if you are already a member, please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/poemsfordoctors/


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