Guest Feature by John Wynn-Jones: Courage

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. After the popularity of his last three guest columns, this month we feature "courage".

Courage is the commitment to begin without any guarantee of success”. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” E.E. Cummings

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” (Atticus Finch) Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” Maya Angelou

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” Coco Chanel

I felt that its time that we should explore concept of courage through poetry. During this dreadful pandemic there have been many acts of courage and fortitude shown by health care workers. Despite the personal risks, many of you have continued to practice, often without adequate PPE, knowing that you and sometimes your loved ones are at risk. This is even more relevant for those from at risk racial groups and older professionals. Let’s dedicate these poems to you in particular.

Photos: Colleagues of courage
Zakiur Rahman (left), well known South Asia region leader pleased to be serving the community again in the Brahmanbaria COVID-19 hospital in Bangladesh after COVID infection

Francisco Javier "Paco" Molina-Silva (right), a family doctor from Mexico, who on August 11th returned to work in Altamira after COVID infection.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

William Ernest Henley was an English poet and editor who was born in 1849. He was one of six children, and his father was a struggling bookseller. Henley studied at Crypt Grammar School from 1861-1867 under the direction of poet T.E. Brown, who was the headmaster.

At the age of twelve, Henley was diagnosed with tubercular arthritis. This illness caused him to miss a lot of school, but it was also speculated that the family's financial situation was a factor in his days off from school. In 1867, when Henley's father passed away, he left Crypt Grammar School to help his mother maintain the household.

Henley's beginning as a poet came from a 20-month hospital stay. In 1868 one of his feet needed to be amputated and the other needed surgery because of the disease that was eating away at his bones. It was during this time that he began writing poetry about life in a hospital. The collection,” In Hospital”, was later published.

Henley wrote a lot about inner strength and perseverance. “Invictus” is his most popular and well-known poem (1875). It was recited by Nelson Mandela while he was in Robben Island Prison. It was also referenced in the 2009 movie Invictus. President Obama quoted it on December 10, 2013 after Nelson Mandela died.

Henley was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote Treasure Island. The character of Long John Silver is actually based in part on Henley.  William Ernest Henley passed away from tuberculosis on July 11, 1903 in Woking, England.

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.

Listen to Tom Hiddleston read Invictus

Edgar Guest (1881-1959)

Edgar Guest was a prolific American poet – publishing a poem every day in the Detroit Free Press for 30 years. Known as the People’s Poet, Edgar Guest wrote easy-to-read poems about many relatable topics. He wrote encouraging life messages about topics such as family and work. This particular poem encourages readers not to give up when they are faced with challenges. Even when things are not going well, keep pushing on. You never know how close you are to success and making it to the other side.

Keep Going
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must—but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

Keep Going by Edgar A Guest

Heather Griffith

I can’t find anything about Heather Griffith but I had to include the poem because it struck a powerful chord with me. As a GP (Family Doctor), I have met so many heroes. They were the heroes that she so eloquently describes in her poem “A Different Kind of Hero”. We applaud and champion those who have achieved great feats of physical and mental strengths in their lives but some of the bravest people that I met were those who faced their deaths from terminal illnesses but handled their mortality with fortitude and amazing strength. It was so often their courage that uplifted us, their families and carers rather than the other way around.

A Different Kind of Hero
For my mother, Marianne Griffith
A hero to me is not just a person who died for their country
or went inside a burning building or stuff like that.
A hero to me is a single mother who survives every day by herself,
A teenager against all odds getting through life,
An alcoholic walking into a rehab center,
A father being not just a father
but a friend, caregiver, supporter, a brick wall for his kids.
A friend, who no matter what or how wrong you are,
stands up for you and takes your side.
A hero, who no matter how hard they are being hit or pushed or beat down,
no matter how bad they are emotionally or physically or psychologically,
they stand up and keep going.
They push through the pain of life, love, kids, work, school, drugs,
sports, parents, heartbreak, alcohol; that to me is a hero.
A person who isn't just there, but is there living, breathing, and surviving.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called one of the greatest dramatic works of modern European literature. His other well-known literary works include his numerous poems, the Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, and the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. This is however a very short poem about personal courage.

Carelessly over the plain away,
Where by the boldest man no path
Cut before thee thou canst discern,
Make for thyself a path!
Silence, loved one, my heart!
Cracking, let it not break!
Breaking, break not with thee!

Anne Sexton (1928 –1974)

Anne Sexton was an American poet known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die. Her poetry details her long battle with depression, suicidal tendencies, and intimate details from her private life, including relationships with her husband and children, whom it was later alleged she physically and sexually assaulted. This poem is about courage throughout our lives. Sometimes courage is what is needed for the simple things in life when on other occasions it is when we face great danger and the unknown.


It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
comver your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

Listen to the poem

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

Finally, I include a short poem from one of my heroes, the great Leonard Cohen. Leonard Norman Cohen was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, mystic and much, much more. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death and romantic relationships. And he was a real gentleman!

I pray for courage
I pray for courage
Now I'm old
To greet the sickness
And the cold

I pray for courage
In the night
To bear the burden
Make it light

I pray for courage
In the time
When suffering comes and
Starts to climb

I pray for courage
At the end
To see death coming
As a friend

No videos of him but here is another “Hope and Courage”