"A SINGLE VERSE by Rimbaud," writes Dominique de Villepin, the new French Prime Minister, "shines like a powder trail on a day's horizon. It sets it ablaze all at once, explodes all limits, draws the eyes to other heavens." Here is a rather different observation, uttered by George Bush Sr in 1998, that might stand as a motto for his dynasty: "I can't do poetry."
M de Villepin has set himself 100 days to restore French self-confidence, to infuse France with a sense of its poetic destiny: �We need a heart that beats for everyone.� For this poet, practical considerations are secondary. As he wrote in his recent 823-page treatise on French poetry: �What does it matter where this path leads, nowhere or elsewhere, if the furrow continues flowering, if the flash of lightning still inflames the night . . . If the poet still consumes himself, he refuses the enclosures of thought, certainties, to camp in the heart of the mystery, in the living spirit of the flame.�
To which the American response will be a resounding: �Whatever.� The Bush White House does not do poetry. At a Nato summit in Prague, Donald Rumsfeld was once forced to sit though a performance of modern dance and poetry. Asked for his reaction afterwards, he shrugged: �I�m from Chicago.�
To the Anglo-Saxon mind there is something dodgy, even dangerous, in the man who rules the world by day and writes verses by night. As W.H. Auden wrote: �All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornados, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman.� Indeed, the precedents are not happy ones, for there is a peculiar link between frustrated poetic ambition and tyranny: Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, Castro, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh all wrote poetry. Radovan Karadzic, fugitive former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, once won the Russian Writers� Union Mikhail Sholokhov Prize for his poems. On the whole, you do not want a poet at the helm.
Opinion - Ben Macintyre Times Online