John Donne, in his poem "Of the Progress of the Soul" uses the vivid metaphor of a beheaded man to describe the severance of the soul from its source of life. He writes,
"...Sometimes in a beheaded man,...
his eyes will twinkle, his tongue will roll
As though he beckoned, and called back his soul,
He grasps his hands, and he pulls up his feet,
And seems to reach and to step forth to meet
Donne doubtless had the opportunity to witness beheadings, living as he did in an age in which torture and execution were public spectacles available to any who wished to witness them.
Similar stories abound from the era of the French Revolution on. One Dr. Beaurieux, experimented with the head of a condemned prisoner by the name of Henri Languille, on 28 June 1905. He wrote:
'Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds...
I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. […] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: "Languille!" I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.
Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again […]
...I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead."
While the above are undeniably gruesome incidents, they hold a lesson for us.
Decapitation can happen to a society, not just to individuals. The thinking head of government can be rudely and irrevocably severed from the body politic. For some time the "talking" head may continue babbling as if it still had a semblance of life, but it is a dead head and no longer listened to by the body of the people.
The people can call out and actually garner a little attention from the talking head. It may focus on the disturbance for a while, but it is dying and rather disinterested in anyone.
For many Americans, their present government is that severed head, eyes twinkling and blinking, lips reflexively moving to the implulse of detached neurons. The march to the guillotine, began years ago, was accelerated by the last administrations and now the guillotine has severed any connection.
The people have tried shouting at the head. The head blinks and moves its lips reassuringly. The people have marched to Washington to awaken it. The head closes its eyes and ears. The people have written letters and signed petitions by the millions. The head can no longer read.
In the meantime, the body is reacting. It is stepping out and reaching for direction. It is looking for a head transplant. It is looking for the intellectual and spiritual headship our government can no longer provide.
How surprised the head will be when it is tossed in the refuse basket of history by a people no longer interested in its imitation of life. Cast aside, there the head's eyes will remain wide open but seeing nothing.