They work with herbs
and penicillin
They work with gentleness
and the scalpel.
They dig out the cancer,
close an incision
and say a prayer
to the poverty of the skin.
They are not Gods
though they would like to be;
they are only a human
trying to fix up a human.
Many humans die.
They die like the tender,
palpitating berries
in November.
But all along the doctors remember:
First do no harm.
They would kiss if it would heal.
It would not heal.

If the doctors cure
then the sun sees it.
If the doctors kill
then the earth hides it.
The doctors should fear arrogance
more than cardiac arrest.
If they are too proud,
and some are,
then they leave home on horseback
but God returns them on foot.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem Doctors


  1. Art chapman says:

    We must remember that Anne Sexton suffered from deep depression, and her poetry grew very dark and cynical before she committed suicide. I have a wonderful doctor who is from India, and he is a very patient and caring man. Sure, some doctors are a bit arrogant but, by and large, they are dedicated to saving human life.

  2. karen says:

    I agree with you Anna.
    This poem was great nonetheless.

  3. Anna says:

    It is interesting to note that this poem has been viewed thousands of times, and yet not one comment until now.
    Okay, I’ll be the first.
    Doctors have a God Complex and a Licence to Kill with society’s blessing.
    And it seems only GOD has the power to knock them off their high horse and put their feet back on the same earth the rest of us walk upon.
    And the sooner society screams “Enough!” at the nonsense, the better off we’ll all be.

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