Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thy soul, the fix'd foot

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
    And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
    "Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."

So let us melt, and make no noise,
    No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
'Twere profanation of our joys
    To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears ;
    Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
    Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
    —Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
    The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
    That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
    Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
    Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
    Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
    As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth, if th' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
    Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
    And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
    Like th' other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
    And makes me end where I begun.

John Donne A Valediction Forbidding Mourning (written 1611 published 1633)

I immediately thought of this poem when I was wrestling with how to communicate my sense of personal ethics to a group of learned academics attending an Ashridge conference on global leadership ethics.

The theme for the conference was the global ethical leadership compass, which started me thinking about just how poor a metaphor this is. In a navigational compass, magnetic north is slowly drifting from Canada to Siberia over disputed territory, and wanders many miles a day. It changes depending where on the planet you are standing when you take the reading, and is affected by local magnetic fields. The poles are about to swap over in any case, and, because opposites attract, magnetic north is actually more correctly the 'south' pole anyway. So it is indeed a perfect metaphor for relativism in ethics.

Then I remembered sitting in a classroom overlooking the quad at Madras College in St Andrews while the legendary Andrew O. Lindsay introduced us to the poetry of John Donne. I was particularly struck by the metaphor of the drawing compasses in this poem, and I was tickled to discover an Ashridge connection. John Donne was in fact Secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere and the father of the first Earl of Bridgewater, who bought Ashridge from Elizabeth I in 1604. Donne was sacked from his post for secretly marrying his boss's niece and ward, Anne More ('John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done'). Izaak Walton, a contemporary of Donne's, says that Donne wrote the Valediction in 1611, when he was leaving for France on Government business. In the poem, he talks about the compasses' fix'd foot, in his case, Anne, whose 'firmness makes my circle just.'

This is how I feel about ethics, that my leadership stems from a sense of moral rootedness. In my case, my fix'd foot is my Christian faith. When I teach ethics on the Ashridge MBA, I use this metaphor to help emerging leaders to identify their own fix'd foot, so that they might be more consciously guided by it in their decision-making.

Eve Poole

No comments:

Post a Comment