Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Outwitted by Edwin Markham


He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
--Edwin Markham

President Hinckley quoted this poem in at least two talks: Reach Out in Love and Kindness (1982), and Four B’s for Boys (1981). While the sentiment is nice, I can't say I really like the poem. It's hard to figure out what exactly it's referring to in the second line -- there's no context. Heretic, rebel, and thing to flout don't all seem to be referring to the same antecedents. It's just oddly structured.

Anyway, I didn't realize that President Hinckley's Six B's talk from Nov 2000 wasn't the first time he's used that format. For comparison, here are the Six B's:
  1. Be grateful.
  2. Be smart.
  3. Be clean.
  4. Be true.
  5. Be humble.
  6. Be prayerful.

The original four B's for boys were as follows:
  1. Be smart.
  2. Be fair.
  3. Be clean.
  4. Be true.

At some point, the six B's were expanded to nine (and though I can find the list, I can't find a reference for it):
  1. Be Grateful
  2. Be Smart
  3. Be Involved
  4. Be Clean
  5. Be True
  6. Be Positive
  7. Be Humble
  8. Be Still
  9. Be Prayerful

I gave a great impromptu lesson in primary on the Six B's once. I mention this, not because I think I did a great job with the lesson, but because he did a great job choosing his words. All I did was read one of the B's, then ask the kids what they think he meant by it. They could come up with two or three applications for each one. All of their answers were great, and even if they were flippant -- like the kid who said Be Clean meant you ought to take a shower so you won't smell -- I could redirect it and say that yes, President Hinckley thinks you ought to take care of your body and present yourself well. Finally, if they didn't think of the specific applications President Hinckley talked about, I could take a moment to expand on them, and the kids listened because they had been thinking about the question for a few minutes.

I love how President Hinckley took the time to speak individually to many different groups of people in the church, each with their own needs and levels of understanding. He'll be missed.


  1. I'm teaching Relief Society this coming Sunday, and had planned a good part of my lesson, but it seems appropriate to include some teaching from President Hinckley, and you've given me some good ideas. He definitely will be missed.

    Do you happen to have any thoughts about his teachings and how they help us to be prepared both phyically and spiritually? That is our RS theme for the year. (Having our oil lamps filled, etc.)

  2. The 9 B's were from President Hinckley's book Way to Be, though I haven't read it.

  3. Re Edwin Markham's "Outwitted": Regardless of structure and other things considered important by poets, the second line makes all the sense in the world to anyone who as ever been excluded because of their outspoken opinions.

    Remember the football player who had "He hate me" on the back of his uniform instead of his name?

    Markham's poem is about the balm of inclusion and the character it takes to draw the circle that "takes him in."

  4. "Outwitted," especially the second line, makes enormous sense to us mainline Protestants, Catholics and others who are excluded precisely as heretics, rebels and things to be flouted by fundamentalists who say no one is "Christian" except those who think exactly like them. I like this poem because it states the ideal response from people like me to the fundamentalists, Biblical inerrantists, etc. We need to love them and include them as much as they allow us to. -- Alan Meyers

  5. I know I'm commenting well-late, but my personal take is that the second line makes sense, though not for the reason Mr. Meyers said (which is perfectly reasonable and a valid reading). I feel the third line helps to explain the second. Love means faith in that other person. When someone, the "he" of the first line, decided to shut out the person who loved him, the "I" of the third, it was breaking the faith and rebelling against what, as I assume who love others have felt, is the natural order of things. The strength of the "I" is such that he/she is fighting to keep the "he" by overwhelming him with love, which he believes to be inclusive.

    I know a woman married to an alcoholic and part of the progression of his disease was his slipping into a bit of a dementia and becoming very antagonistic and combative with her. For her, this poem carries a special meaning, because she felt him closing off from her, pulling away from their marriage and love and instead of allowing that to simply stand and drifting apart, she vowed to "fight" him and love him regardless, to overpower him with her love. Though things did not work out; she did not "win" as the narrator did; I still commend her on the bravery, loyalty, and love she displayed.

    At any rate, I think those who have loved someone who has begun to close themselves off for whatever reason can understand the 2nd line.