Follow Sunlit Uplands by E-Mail

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Praise of… Poetry in Politics

Editorial from The Guardian

If new year's resolutions are about self-improvement then politicians should surely be making longer lists than most, and somewhere on those lists, below rekindling the spluttering flame of the economy, should be embracing the English language. Like a sculptor's chisel or a fisherman's net, language is the statesman's essential tool, yet many aspiring leaders are content to spew out dry management-speak that has become the stale norm. In 2012's re-election bid, even President Obama seems unlikely to indulge in the soaring rhetoric and rich cadences that captured the hopes of the world in 2008. In times of crisis, should politicians be more timid in their language or more bold? Replace the word "language" with "leadership" and you have the answer. Crises require leadership, leadership requires oratory. As JFK said of Winston Churchill, "when Britain stood alone … he mobilised the English language and sent it into battle". Churchill had the two gifts that great orators need: the ear and the heart of a poet. He even exchanged poems with FDR during one of the bleakest periods of the war (Roosevelt sent Longfellow, Churchill responded with Arthur Hugh Clough). Consider the deep, textured prose of Gladstone, the fiery energy of Lloyd George or the imagery of Martin Luther King, whose I Have a Dream speech was poetry plain and simple. Politics must lift people's sights to greater things. The English language is equal to the task. Politicians should resolve to use it to better effect in 2012.

No comments: