Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Why do poets make bad politicians?

with 12 comments

W.H. Auden

Poets are, by the nature of their interests and the nature of artistic fabrication, singularly ill-equipped to understand politics or economics. Their natural interest is in singular individuals and personal relations, while politics and economics are concerned with large numbers of people, hence with the human average (the poet is bored to death by the idea of the Common Man) and with impersonal, to a great extent involuntary, relations. The poet cannot understand the function of money in modern society because for him there is no relation between subjective value and market value; he may be paid ten pounds for a poem which he believes is very good and took him months to write, and a hundred pounds for a piece of journalism which costs him but a day’s work…

All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman.

In a war or a revolution, a poet may do very well as a guerrilla fighter or a spy, but it is unlikely that he will make a good regular soldier, or, in peace time, a conscientious member of a parliamentary committee.

W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

Written by nevalalee

December 19, 2015 at 7:30 am

12 Responses

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  1. Of course they are good politicians, but how many politicians are actually good!


    December 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

  2. Some, of course, are exceptions. Think Wallace Stevens, the insurance executive, or even those of the medical profession like Carlos Williams. I’d add Gary Snyder to the mix, as one who’s traversed the blue-collar realities.

    Jnana Hodson

    December 19, 2015 at 8:31 am

  3. In India I have never seen a good politicians, and I think we are also responsible upto some extent for that, no body from educational background not willing to go in politics. Good post. Thanks from shareofheartworld

    Share Of Heart

    December 19, 2015 at 9:42 am

  4. There isn’t something as a good politician in India ! Ironically it still is the largest democracy of the world


    December 19, 2015 at 10:19 am

  5. True that! This is beautifully said!

    Arpita Sk

    December 19, 2015 at 11:36 am

  6. Indian democracy is just to help big businesses to grow more and hence sustain themselves by this wealth. While maintaining a fake face that says that they are for the common people, when actually nobody cares for them.


    December 19, 2015 at 3:00 pm

  7. Informative

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    December 20, 2015 at 12:50 am

  8. That’s a wonderful synopsis. I watched an amazing doco today called Banking Nature which is a frightening tale of corporations ‘acquiring’ nature and giving it a monetary ‘value.’ Sadly they are appointing bankers but not poets to carve up the planet into the new economic commodities. It seems only poets could understand the true meaning of nature and the environment as something which cannot be counted.

    Chas Spain

    December 20, 2015 at 2:41 am

  9. Not all politicians are bad…the good ones are under the shades


    December 20, 2015 at 5:00 pm

  10. @Jnana Hodson: And then there’s T.S. Eliot, whose colleague said: “If you see our young friend, you tell him that we think he’s doing quite well at the Bank. In fact, if he goes on as he has been doing, I don’t see why—in time, of course, in time—he mightn’t even become a Branch Manager.”


    December 22, 2015 at 7:41 pm

  11. I think if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that we should let the poets be poets and the politicians be politicians.


    December 22, 2015 at 7:43 pm

  12. Poetry is a mystery like politics may be left at one’s interpretation. They do offerts a view on the world with an opinion. but the poet can tell his true nature. The politician as an image to protection while the poet make images in order to climb the society and get know.


    December 27, 2015 at 7:32 am

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