Guest Feature by John Wynn-Jones: Health and Wellbeing

Dr John Wynn-Jones is well known in WONCA circles and immediate past chair of the WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice. During the COVID-19 crisis he has been writing a daily 'Rural Miscellany' email with poems and resource ideas to help and divert us in this difficult time. As a final item for 2020 we publish our hopes for 2021 - "Health and Wellbeing" - written by John in September.

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Andrija Štampar, WHO

“To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear”.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” 

“To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost”. Gustave Flaubert

“Happiness is good health and a bad memory”.
Ingrid Bergman

“Money cannot buy health, but I'd settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair.” Dorothy Parker

Health and Wellbeing

How many times have we heard our patients grieve over the loss of good health? It is often only as we get older that we realise that all the wealth in the world is of less value without good health. As health professionals, health is our job but sadly we spend the great majority of our time dealing with ill-health.

I found it harder than usual to put this short collection pf poems together. There is so much out there about death and disease but health in itself, does not seem to inspire the poets. Perhaps Public Health Departments should employ poets and writers to motivate the population as a whole.
Health is the default that we all wish we had but perhaps don’t invest in as we should. As Maya Angelou in her poem “The Health-Food Diner” suggests, much of the health-related poetry laments the things that don’t give us good health but tempt us by provoking us to feel somewhat guilty and naughty.

Please enjoy! tantalising.

Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584)

Jan Kochanowski was a Polish Renaissance humanist poet who dominated the culture of Renaissance Poland. Born into the country nobility, Kochanowski studied at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and later, between 1552 and 1559, at the University of Padua in Italy. On his return to Poland in 1559, he served as a secretary at the royal court in Kraków. He married about 1575 and retired to his family estate at Czarnolas, in central Poland.

Kochanowski’s first poems, mostly elegies, were written in Latin, but he soon turned to the vernacular. Since Polish was not fully developed at that time as a language of literary expression, he devised his own poetic syntax and patterns of versification, setting high standards for the centuries to come.  He is commonly regarded as the greatest Polish poet before Adam Mickiewicz, and the greatest Slavic poet prior to the 19th century.

I an sure that you will agree with me that the sentimets of “On Health” is just as relevant today 500 years later

On Health

My good and noble health,
Thou matter'st more then wealth.
None know’th thy worth until
Thou fad’st, and we fall ill.

And every man can see,
In stark reality,
And every man will say:
“’Tis health I need today”.

No better thing we know,
No dearer gem we owe,
For all that we possess:
Pearls, stones of great finesse,
High offices and power
– One may enjoy this hour –
And so the gifts of youth,
And beauty are, in truth,
Good things, but only when
Our health is with us then.
For when the body’s weak,
The world around is bleak.
O jewel dear, my home
Awaiteth thee to come;
With thee it shall not perish.
’Tis all for thee to cherish.

Mary Darby Robinson (1757-1800)

Mary Robinson was an English actress, poet, dramatist, novelist, and celebrity figure. She lived in England, in the cities of Bristol and London; she also lived for a time in France and Germany.

She enjoyed poetry from the age of seven and started working, first as a teacher and then as actress, from the age of fourteen. She wrote many plays, poems and novels. She was a celebrity, gossiped about in newspapers, famous for her acting and writing. During her lifetime she was known as "the English Sappho". She earned her nickname "Perdita" for her role as Perdita (heroine of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale) in 1779. She was the first public mistress of King George IV while he was still Prince of Wales.

In the 18th Century women in the theatre had a dubious reputation. Until then boys had played female roles. Mary Robinson was an extremely talented woman but due to the dictates and values of the time her talents were never fully appreciated, and she sadly died in relative poverty. Please stick with the poem, it takes some reading but it’s well worthwhile.

Ode to Health

Come, bright-eyed maid,
Pure offspring of the tranquil mind,
Haste, my fev'rish temples bind
With olive wreaths of em'rald hue
Steep'd in morn's ethereal dew,
Where in mild HELVETIA's shade,
Blushing summer round her flings
Warm gales and sunny show'rs that hang upon her wings.

I'll seek thee in ITALIA's bow'rs,
Where supine on beds of flow'rs
Melody's soul-touching throng
Strike the soft lute or trill the melting song:
Where blithe FANCY, queen of pleasure,
Pours each rich luxuriant treasure.
For thee I'll climb the breezy hill,
While the balmy dews distill
Odours from the budding thorn,
Drop'd from the lust'rous lids of morn;
Who, starting from her shad'wy bed,
Binds her gold fillet round the mountain's head.

There I'll press from herbs and flow'rs
Juices bless'd with opiate pow'rs,
Whose magic potency can heal
The throb of agonizing pain,
And thro' the purple swelling vein
With subtle influence steal:
Heav'n opes for thee its aromatic store
To bathe each languid gasping pore;
But where, O where, shall cherish'd sorrow find
The lenient balm to soothe the feeling mind.

O, mem'ry! busy barb'rous foe,
At thy fell touch I wake to woe:
Alas! the flatt'ring dream is o'er,
From thee the bright illusions fly,
Thou bidst the glitt'ring phantoms die,
And hope, and youth, and fancy, charm no more.

No more for me the tip-toe SPRING
Drops flowrets from her infant wing;
For me in vain the wild thymes bloom
Thro' the forest flings perfume;
In vain I climb th'embroider'd hill
To breathe the clear autumnal air;
In vain I quaff the lucid rill
Since jocund HEALTH delights not there
To greet my heart:¬no more I view,
With sparkling eye, the silv'ry dew
Sprinkling May's tears upon the folded rose,
As low it droops its young and blushing head,
Press'd by grey twilight to its mossy bed:
No more I lave amidst the tide,
Or bound along the tufted grove,
Or o'er enamel'd meadows rove,
Where, on Zephyr's pinions, glide
Salubrious airs that waft the nymph repose.

Lightly o'er the yellow heath
Steals thy soft and fragrant breath,
Breath inhal'd from musky flow'rs
Newly bath'd in perfum'd show'rs.
See the rosy-finger'd morn
Opes her bright refulgent eye,
Hills and valleys to adorn,
While from her burning glance the scatter'd vapours fly.

Soon, ah soon! the painted scene,
The hill's blue top, the valley's green,
Midst clouds of snow, and whirlwinds drear,
Shall cold and comfortless appear:
The howling blast shall strip the plain,
And bid my pensive bosom learn,
Tho' NATURE's face shall smile again,
And, on the glowing breast of Spring
Creation all her gems shall fling,
YOUTH's April morn shall ne'er return.

Then come, Oh quickly come, Hygeian Maid!
Each throbbing pulse, each quiv'ring nerve pervade.
Flash thy bright fires across my languid eye,
Tint my pale visage with thy roseate die,
Bid my heart's current own a temp'rate glow,
And from its crimson source in tepid channels flow.

O HEALTH, celestial Nymph! without thy aid
Creation sickens in oblivions shade:
Along the drear and solitary gloom
We steal on thorny footsteps to the tomb;
Youth, age, wealth, poverty alike agree
To live is anguish, when depriv'd of Thee.
To THEE indulgent Heav'n benignly gave
The touch to heal, the extacy to save.
The balmy incense of thy fost'ring breath
Wafts the wan victim from the fangs of Death,
Robs the grim Tyrant of his trembling prize,
Cheers the faint soul, and lifts it to the skies.

Let not the gentle rose thy bounty drest
To meet the rising son with od'rous breast,
Which glow'd with artless tints at noon-tide hour,
And shed soft tears upon each drooping flower,
With with'ring anguish mourn the parting Day,
Shrink to the Earth, and sorrowing fade away.

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Robert Burns known familiarly as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet and various other names and epithets, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is in English and a light Scots dialect, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland.

He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries, and his influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. In 2009 he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television.

So often around the world, toasts wish good health and in this poem, he toasts the of his fair love. Please listen to the poem via the link to hear the Lowland Scots Dialect spoken.

Here's to thy health
Here's to my health my Bonnie Lass by Robert Burns

Here's to thy health, my bonie lass,
Gude nicht and joy be wi' thee;
I'll come nae mair to thy bower-door,
To tell thee that I lo'e thee.
O dinna think, my pretty pink,
But I can live without thee:
I vow and swear I dinna care,
How lang ye look about ye.

Thou'rt aye sae free informing me,
Thou hast nae mind to marry;
I'll be as free informing thee,
Nae time hae I to tarry:
I ken thy frien's try ilka means
Frae wedlock to delay thee;
Depending on some higher chance,
But fortune may betray thee.

I ken they scorn my low estate,
But that does never grieve me;
For I'm as free as any he;
Sma' siller will relieve me.
I'll count my health my greatest wealth,
Sae lang as I'll enjoy it;
I'll fear nae scant, I'll bode nae want,
As lang's I get employment.

But far off fowls hae feathers fair,
And, aye until ye try them,
Tho' they seem fair, still have a care;
They may prove waur than I am.
But at twal' at night, when the moon shines bright,
My dear, I'll come and see thee;
For the man that loves his mistress weel,
Nae travel makes him weary.

Edward Thomas 1878-1917

Philip Edward Thomas was a British poet, essayist, and novelist. He is commonly considered a war poet, although few of his poems deal directly with his war experiences, and his career in poetry only came after he had already been a successful writer and literary critic.
In 1915, he enlisted in the British Army to fight in the First World War and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras in 1917, soon after he arrived in France.
In his biography of Thomas, Mathew Hollis writes of Thomas’ deep depressive illness “Thomas had been plagued by depression from before his university days at Oxford. There, he fought to shake it out of himself. He tried drink and opium, took up rowing and rowdiness, but could not hold the bleak moods back. When the dark thoughts overran him, he told himself that he valued life too much to take it away or that he was too sedentary to go through with ending it; but in recent years he had become harder to console. In advertising his sorrows, as he put it, he had punished his family, decimated his friends and broken down his self-respect”
Edward Thomas developed a deep friendship with Robert Frost while Frost was living in England. It was Frost who directed him towards poetry.
In this poem, we find him battling with this depression? He dreams of achieving good health but can he still achieve his heart’s desire. “However many hills I climbed over; Peace would still be farther”.


Four miles at a leap, over the dark hollow land,
To the frosted steep of the down and its junipers black,
Travels my eye with equal ease and delight:
And scarce could my body leap four yards.

This is the best and the worst of it -
Never to know,
Yet to imagine gloriously, pure health.

To-day, had I suddenly health,
I could not satisfy the desire of my heart
Unless health abated it,
So beautiful is the air in its softness and clearness, while
Promises all and fails in nothing as yet;
And what blue and what white is I never knew
Before I saw this sky blessing the land.

For had I health I could not ride or run or fly
So far or so rapidly over the land
As I desire: I should reach Wiltshire tired;
I should have changed my mind before I could be in Wales.
I could not love; I could not command love.
beauty would still be far off
However many hills I climbed over;
Peace would still be farther.
Maybe I should not count it anything
To leap these four miles with the eye;
And either I should not be filled almost to bursting with desire,
Or with my power desire would still keep pace.

Yet I am not satisfied
Even with knowing I never could be satisfied.
With health and all the power that lies
In maiden beauty, poet and warrior,
In Caesar, Shakespeare, Alcibiades,
Mazeppa, Leonardo, Michelangelo,
In any maiden whose smile is lovelier
Than sunlight upon dew,
I could not be as the wagtail running up and down
The warm tiles of the roof slope, twittering
Happily and sweetly as if the sun itself
Extracted the song
As the hand makes sparks from the fur of a cat:

I could not be as the sun.
Nor should I be content to be
As little as the bird or as mighty as the sun.
For the bird knows not the sun,
And the sun regards not the bird.
But I am almost proud to love both bird and sun,
Though scarce this Spring could my body leap four yards.

I don’t have a video but this short film tells you something about his life: In Memoriam - Edward Thomas

Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Oh how we crave what is not good for us!

The Health-Food Diner

No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I'm dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run


Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.

Listen to The Health Food Diner - Maya Angelou

John Thorkild Ellison

I can’t find out much about John Thorkild Ellison. On his Facebook page he wrote “I must be a total freak. I write poetry and I hate Facebook.” He was born in Melksham, Wiltshire (England) and he lives in Haltwhistle, Northumberland. He clearly wants to remain mysterious and enigmatic but I was captivated by his wonderful poetry. I came across this short description of him from someone else who was trying to find out more about him “I came across the poetry of one John Thorkild Ellison and find myself enchanted. In The Failed Mystic, Ellison expresses his frustration that he cannot “freeze Eternity into one single Moment. He is desperate for transcendence and would like to say that he hears Jesus knocking at his door but says his experience is instead fumbling about in the darkness.”

Poetry Can Damage Your Health

The day my doctor died of smoking
I bought myself a fat cigar -
I realised he must be joking,
His funeral was so bizarre:

A dwarf in multi-coloured clothing
Sang louder than the parish choir
And though my heart was full of loathing
I leapt upon the funeral pyre.

I'd often longed for such a roasting
And knew it was my friend's desire,
I shouted out 'We'll all be toasting
In Hell's incandescent fire! '

Don't be discouraged by this story,
Smoking cigarettes is fine,
Inhale them on your days of glory
And drink your fill of rich, red wine!!

Mike Dailey

Michael Daley was born in Boston, is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts. In 1976 he was the founding editor of Empty Bowl press in Port Townsend. His first collection of poetry in 1983, The Straits, as described as “Superb, elegant poetically and fresh with the Northwest world.” He has received several awards, but his favourite was a Fulbright teacher exchange that allowed him and his family to spend a year living in Hungary.

I have included this because health doesn’t necessarily mean that you are free of any diseases but one can be living with serious disease and at the same time remaining healthy with a positive mental attitude.

The Truth

It’s true that I have cancer
Not true that it has me
For I choose to live my life
As full as it can be
It’s true they did some cutting
To get the cancer out
But I’m still fighting cancer
And it is quite a bout
It’s true that I’ll do chemo
And chemo makes you sick
While chemo kills the cancer
That’s not what makes me tick
For me, it’s love of family
My daughter and my wife
And I’ll have a brand new grandchild
And that – to me – is life
Each moment that I’m living
My love for them grows strong
And loving equals living
That’s what keeps me going on
So it’s true that I have cancer
Not true that it has me
And like a wise man said once
The truth shall set you free.

A song to watch: Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive