A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Face Behind The Face

Where does it live, the face behind the face?
Everyone ought
To know all there is
About the face that is his.

People often haven't a clue
About their very own I.
Each of us makes his own
Best defence counsel.

Nero, apparently, thought
He was a poet,
Hitler thought that he
Would redeem the world from woe!

The mean man thinks 'I am so generous'.
The shallow man: 'I am profound.'
Sometimes God will sigh: 'I am a worm.'
The worm hisses: 'I am God!'

The worm climbs arrogantly upwards.
The coward rejoices to be in the clouds.
Only the free man
'I am a slave.'


Have we one face, two faces or many faces?
Which is our real face?
What is our 'very own I'? Have we a clue about it?
Why does only the free man think he is a slave?

D. H. Lawrence, in his essay Democracy, defines two ideas of the self: the egotistical, self-conscious, materialistic, secondary self of the personality (from the Latin 'persona', a player's mask or a character in a play), and the living, creative, spontaneous, primary self of the spirit.


George said...

A lovely poem, and I especially like the Lawrence discussion of the unconscious ego, versus the conscious, authentic spirit. So much literature, so much art, devoted to this singular, human problem -- the face beneath the face.

am said...

Why does this poem make me think of:

"... Surrender your crown on this bloodstained ground. Take off your mask ..."

"Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?"

I know that people who are called "slaves" don't have to think of themselves as slaves. There is a freedom in that. Does it follow that only the person called a slave by others thinks: "I am a free man."


Bob Dylan may well have heard Yevtushenko read at Harvard in 1961.

Thanks for this today.

The Solitary Walker said...

You make some fascinating connections, am.

Yes, Yevtushenko's first ever poetry reading in the US was at Harvard in 1961. And his electrifying readings and lectures are still going strong.

George - indeed. Perhaps one could even go further and say that this uniquely human characteristic of self-consciousness, this struggle with selfhood and identity, this Hamlet complex - is at the root of all serious literature and art. It's our problem - but therein also lies our salvation.

How to live without self-delusion!