Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Power of a Poem


We can be such deluded beings, can we not?  How many times in our lives have the saner amongst us mused as to why so-and-so, this person or that other, got carried away on a power trip, trying to control, control, control... Why do we creatures delude ourselves so with our own inflated importance?  We are all aware of the famous quotation from the great historian, Lord John Edward Acton (1834–1902) , viz., "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely," and indeed that of the famous British Prime Minister William Pitt, the Elder, The Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778, who is sometimes wrongly quoted as the source of the above quotation.  However, he did say something similar, in a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."  Simply marvelling at how (limited, never mind unlimited) power tends to deflect a growing number of lesser mortals amongst whom we ourselves live has never ceased to both amuse and disturb me in turns.  Why do they get so carried away with power, at being right at all costs, at never having to admit they were wrong?  Why do they become so ensnared in the web of ego-tripping or power-tripping?  Well, let me suggest a reason and offer a poem by the great Nobel Laureate for Literature, W.B. Yeats as a reflective piece on such intrigue with power.

Lack of Connection:

Today in most circles when people lose the plot as it were, and especially when politicians get low poll ratings, when the top echelons of bankers and entrepreneurs run amok and become mere gamblers who squander the wealth of nations, good critics speak about how they were "living in their ivory towers," "living in a world, nay universe, of their own" or quite simply did not connect with the ordinary man and woman in the street, with the commonality of the human herd as it were.  They often speak of the "lack of connection."  I have even heard the term "lack of connect," though I dispute its grammatical correctness. These critics are even more correct than they think in their analysis, and consequently in one proposed cure, of the malady shared by these unfortunately disconnected individuals. 

Those of us who live in the world and grapple with it on a daily basis in order to survive have a more experiential, existential, spiritual interaction with that world.  Our real life power, if we can call it that, comes from a sense of connection with others, with our deep inner Self, with our own sense of innate justice, with our own sense of authenticity, of which the existential philosophers and psychotherapists speak so passionately and so well.  This is a different type of power, but power nonetheless - it is a spiritual power, an enlivening power, an enthusing power, a power which empowers others rather than disempowers.  Power rooted in the ego becomes corrupt in the above mentioned Actonian or Pittian sense.  But, real power rooted in the Soul or in the Self or in our essential integrity as human beings who are very much social animals is always a spiritual power, a spiritual electricity which connects us one to the other.  It is essentially what good leadership is all about - leading others by empowering them, not disempowering them.

The Solution: Reconnection

Like many problems, the solution is always obvious, but very hard indeed to do.  When our computers or computer-aided technologies break down, the obvious place to "troubleshoot" is with the hardware and by checking all the possible connections in the hardware.  After that one can check the virtual world of the software.  Where is the system breaking down?  Where is there a lack of connection?  How do we reconnect?  It's the same with the power-driven and the power-corrupted ego.  I rememeber the great contemporary Irish psychologist and psychotherapist, Dr. Tony Humphreys saying at a conference of his which I attended that "all control is self-control," and how right that gentleman is.  All real power, likewise, is self-power, knowing the limits of one's very own personal gifts, that is, knowing intimately our very own strengths and weaknesses.  This, in itself, is a life-long goal.  I am reminded here of the wonderfully strong, dignified and wisdom-laden lines from the first seection of Part 1 of The Four Quartets by T.S.Eliot, Burnt Norton:
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
However, that's the cure.  The cure is, then, to be found in all the therapies and indeed concrete actions in the world that help "human kind" to bear that reality.  This is essentially the way - in order to enable us human animals to deal effectively with our own mortality without crushing others, that is disempowering them through our own desire for power, through our own ego-tripping or power-tripping, we must have recourse to all activities that heighten our awareness, and awaken us from the sleep of deception, especially self-deception.   Therefore, with this in mind I suggest that the "gentle reader" of this blog might ponder this great poem by W.B. Yeats.  It is much easier to grapple with than with the almost epic sweep of The Four Quartets.  Here Yeats offers us a lyric of both high intensity and profound beauty, and from that beauty wisdom is never too far away.  Read it and ponder these great words.  Let their enlivening power sink in slowly!

Long-Legged Fly

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand upon his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope's chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding resides
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence

No comments: