For anyone trapped in a corporate workaday job, it’s hard to imagine anything less relevant than poetry.
Yet English poet David Whyte manages to not only make poetry relevant, he shows how it can open new doors of wisdom and meaning for anyone struggling to navigate the treacherous landscape of modern business.
By weaving such legends as Beowulf and Fionn and the Salmon of Knowledge into the mundane machinery of business, Whyte reveals how humanity’s most ancient stories contain some of its most essential wisdom, which can serve to not only awaken us to our deeper selves but to guide us as well through our inevitable struggles.
“Much of this book deals with the hidden and neglected side of corporate life, where a woman’s or a man’s soul has been forced to reside, like Tolkien’s character Gollum, in dark and subterranean caves,” he writes. If that doesn’t inspire curiosity (if not a chill) in your heart, then I’m not sure anything can.
I first read “The Heart Aroused” the year it was published, in 1994, when an enlightened manager I knew at Microsoft gave a copy to everyone on her team. It shocked me then, with its audacious idea that poetry (which I never quite loved, beyond my Bob Dylan albums) could unlock any useful truths as I fumbled my way up the corporate ladder.
To be honest, I couldn’t answer its call. It dared me to value my own visions and ideas more than those being programmed into me by the company. I wasn’t ready to refine my ego; I was too busy selling it out. It would be a couple decades before I could overcome that.
Two years ago, when I decided to start my own business, the book all but jumped off my bookshelf and into my hands. The words came alive in ways I was unable to process when I first read them. It felt like a guide to both understanding and peace, as I faced the new and deeply frightening challenges of becoming an entrepreneur.
I also love the book for how beautifully explores the concept of meaning, which is a central theme in the business storytelling consulting that I do. It also resonates nicely with the work of Libby Wagner, who is another accomplished poet who helps business people connect with the deeper purpose of their work.
Whyte is an Englishman by birth, who now lives in the Pacific Northwest. I keep a copy of his River Flow: New & Selected Poems at my bedside, and I often read one of his poems aloud, before returning to the land of dreams for the night.
• Publisher, year: Crown Business, 1996