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Belmont Club

The Hollow Crown

March 7th, 2013 - 4:21 pm

The Guardian story on  Hugo Chavez’s last words give us a glimpse of him at this most vulnerable. His last utterance was “I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die”. This extremely human reaction recalls Shakespeare:

Dar’st thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

The Venezuelan dictator, Commander of the nation, the New Bolivar as he further styled himself, was not any more  immune to this sense of dread than a beetle. For despite everything the one thing he could not command was the Grim Reaper.

The death of powerful men has a special poignance.  A pauper’s death is but a passage from obscurity into the tomb. But the death of kings! What a fall. Shakespeare remarked on the second king on every throne.

Within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp.

It is the fall from the height that provides the dramatic impact; and that is true of every level of power, right down to Little Caesar.

But the apprehension, as Shakespeare terms it, may be inversely proportional to the degree to which one clings to  the Hollow Crown; to the trappings of state power. We are told that a grand mausoleum is to be built for Chavez, like Lenin’s or Mao’s or Kim’s. In that way Chavez will be remembered if only because you can’t avoid seeing his tomb.

Not everyone takes this path. Chavez’s death brought to mind another funeral, of someone else who had also been President, and who also succumbed to cancer. We also have a record of her final words. When Corazon Aquino passed away in 2009 she wanted to be buried beside her husband in ordinary cemetery. I wrote on the day:

That procession in the rain was Cory’s last duty of state; the final act in the public drama. It was also, to those who understood it, the concluding chapter in a love story. At the end of the cortege was a relatively modest grave, no grander than that which a successful small businessman might have, dug beside the spot where Ninoy lay. It was where she wanted to go. When she first learned she had colon cancer more than a year ago, Aquino told her family she would refuse aggressive treatment. Her time, she said, had come. Her daughter Kris related how, when the end was near, she was called back into the room by a nurse from the corridor, where she had stepped out to drink some coffee. Cory bade her daughter bend and said, “I can see him now. Your father is holding out his hand to me.” Dylan Thomas wrote of grave men “near death, who see with blinding sight”; of those on their deathbeds who, perhaps from the effects of medication, delirium or that blinding sight see before them those to whom they would come. Underneath the story of the People Power revolution was also a story of a woman who avenged her husband and reached out to him across the gulf of death with the frail hand of love.

In some way the revenge was perfect, so excellent that it no longer assumed the character of vengeance. Ferdinand Marcos murdered her husband. And she responded by leading a nation to take from him the only thing he loved: power.  And with  herself in possession of it, she set about limiting it and cast it away when her term ended as if it were the lightest thing in the world.  That final gesture: to yield vast power when she could have kept it unquestioned was something only the Great could do.

Their graves are nothing special. Walk a little too fast and you’ll go right by.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

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Top Rated Comments   
The Tyrant’s crown so lightly lies
Upon smooth brow and smiling eyes
It’s gleaming gold in sunlight glows
In beauty measured by the rose
And yet doth he who wears the crown
Record the days that wind him down
Until the time of one last breath
When gold will not forbid him death

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (26)
All Comments   (26)
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Death is the great equalizer. At this moment, no matter how great or how small we are in life, we all go back to being balls of energy or insect food, depending on your perspective. But we are no longer kings or clowns, we are basically all the same.

Some, like Chavez, perhaps can't bear the thought of being like everyone else again, and don't want to go to that fate. Others, like Aquino, really never thought of themselves as above the rest of us anyway so it's no big deal.

Christ said "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Perhaps that applies to the power hungry also.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“Please don’t let me die.”

Who was he addressing? Not his doctors, as they do no have that power—doctors may treat illnesses, but death is not illness. Not Allah, because unlike his fellow OPEC tyrants, he doesn’t believe.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die”.
Who knew that Chavez was left to the tender Marxist mercies of Nicholson and the British NHS?

The comments no longer close after 48 hours. So new entries may still be made on threads that are over a week old. With this format and no 'subscribe to comments' feature it is impossible to know if someone responded to a comment. Conversation becomes limited.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am put in mind of Napoleon's comment about why he could not put down the sword. "I am no Washington."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think that Chavez feared death mainly because he knew that those who come after him will be far less competent at concealing the truth about him.

This "man who helped the poor" accumulated a $3B estate as a result of his Marxism. It is very unlikely that with him gone that fact will be concealed much longer, along with the truth about whatever deals he cut with the Cubans, Russians and Iranians.

He knew that he was looking not only at his own personal death but that of all he held dear as well.

Corazon Aquino was a builder. Hugo Chavez was a destroyer.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
(formerly chuck)

I'm reminded of Michael Jackson's funeral when pastor Lucious Smith stepped to the podium and offered a prayer in which he said ..."and even now the king of pop must bow his knee before the King of Kings." And so too must a Venezuelan dictator.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you Richard for showing how people for whom the secular is the highest possible value suffer death is different than how people such Corazon Aquino suffer it. It is not just the fall from great power, but the sincere lack of any inner knowledge that we are more than we know.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Corazon Aquino had no fear because someone she loved was holding out a hand for her.

I suspect the little bastard Chavez saw a rather different entity reaching out for him as his mortal coil rid itself of his ghost.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am certain that right after his final breath Chavez smelled the stink of sulphur, and it wasn't George W. Bush's face he saw at that moment.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
From the amazing accomplishmnets of my father, I learned how to do feats of engineerng magic. But it was from my mother that I learned compassion. You can sum it all up in fourteen of her words, "A man never stands as tall as when he stoops to help a child."

When the children of Kuwait were cryiing out for help, I went.
When the chldren of the Gulf Coast cried out for help, I went.
When the children of Japan cried out for help, I went.

And using the engineering gifts I had been bequeathed,

We extinguished the Fires of Kuwait.
We plugged the BP Oil Spill.
We controlled the Nuclear Fires of Fukushima.

We Americans have made a covenant with God, and it is our duty to hold up our end of the bargain.

God Bless, America

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you Mr. Fernandez, for reminding me of the courage and nobility displayed for the world in the events of Mr. Aquino's return from exile, knowing he was placing himself in mortal danger, and all the subsequent courageous acts by thousands of Filipinos following his example.

The fall of many tyrants can be seen to have been nudged by the reverberations of those acts of loving resistance. I remember watching in disbelief at news broadcasts of crowds standing resolute before the bayonets and rifles of the troops Marcos commanded, remembering so many times when other dictators' troops had not hesitated to slaughter their own brothers and sisters. I hope when our testing comes we have a tenth of their steadfast courage.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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