Gary Dexter

Surprising literary ventures | 19 November 2005

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The Normal and Adventitious Danger Periods for Pulmonary Disease in Children (1913) by William Carlos Williams

The great American modernist poet William Carlos Williams was also a full-time paediatrician. He received his MD in 1906 and practised continuously until 1951. The rare booklet above is among his small corpus of medical writings, appearing originally in The Archives of Pediatrics in August 1913. In it he explores the possibility of a ‘danger period’ for children just before puberty, when greater growth in height in relation to chest capacity makes them more vulnerable to pulmonary disease. As he puts it, ‘The height always increases, relatively, at the expense of the chest ... Developmentally, length of body is always dominant to weight.’ Interesting, given the form of his best-known poem, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ (1925):

so much depends

upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.