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Definition: Abse, Dannie from Chambers Biographical Dictionary


♦ Welsh writer and physician

Born in Cardiff, he was educated at the Welsh National School of Medicine, King's College London and Westminster Hospital. He was the senior specialist in the chest clinic at the Central Medical Establishment, London (1954-1989). His literary output includes many volumes of poetry, in which medicine and his Jewish background are strong themes, and several novels and plays. Autobiographical volumes are A Poet in the Family (1974), A Strong Dose of Myself (1982), and the novel Ash on a Young Man's Sleeve (1954). His New and Collected Poems was published in 2003. His memoir The Presence (2007) details his attempts to come to terms with the death of his wife Joan, who was killed in a car crash in 2005.

Summary Article: Abse, Dannie (1923–)
From Encyclopedia of Global Health

Dannie Abse, a Welsh writer and pulmonologist, is considered one of Britain’s most important contemporary poets. Abse’s poems, plays, essays, and novels have met both critical and popular success due to his ability to signify universal themes through frank depictions of daily life. His writing is influenced by his experience of his Welsh nationality and his Jewish heritage, his occupation as a physician, and a strong awareness of social issues.

Abse was educated at the University of Wales, Kings College in London, and Westminster Hospital, and received his medical license in 1950. He spent four years in the Royal Air Force, and in 1955 joined the London Chest Clinic. He has served both as a physician and a freelance writer until his recent retirement from medical practice. Abse published his first collection of poems, After Every Green Thing (1948) while in medical school, and has since published over 20 works, including novels, books of poetry, and memoirs. He had three children with art historian Joan Mercer, his wife of over 50 years until her death in 2005.

Abse’s early work does not focus on his identity as a physician. He began to explicitly incorporate his medical experiences into his work early in the 1960s. He writes frequently about the tension between his clinical and literary identities: the symbolic “white coat” and “purple coat” figure repeatedly in his poetry. Abse’s social consciousness extends too to his regard of the medical profession in his consideration of medical ethics. Funland and Other Poems (1973) is considered one of his best volumes of poetry. One of his most famous medical poems, “In the Theatre (A True Incident),” can be found as a part of this volume.

Among the many awards he has received are the Arts Council of Wales Literature Award for his volume of Selected Poems (1970) and his play Pythagoras (1979), a Jewish Chronicle Book Award (1970), and the Cholmondeley Award in 1985. Abse has also served as a Senior Fellow of the Humanities at Princeton University (1973–74), President of the Poetry Society (1978–92), was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983, and a Fellow of the Welsh Academy of Letters in 1992.

  • Chekhov, Anton; Da Vinci, Leonardo.

  • Tony Curtis, Dannie Abse (University of Wales Press, 1985).
  • The Poetry Archive, “Dannie Abse: Recordings,” (cited November 2006).
  • Constance W. Liu, M.D.
    Case Western Reserve University
    Copyright © 2008 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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