Sunday, August 28, 2016

Spiraling toward Doom

W.B. Yeats (Daily Beast / Library of Congress)
W.B. Yeats' poem, The Second Coming, is experiencing a second life in these times of turmoil:
the Irish poet’s incantatory words and frightening symbolism are being deployed with unusual frequency by commentators, journalists and others seeking to add an apocalyptic tone to their work.
Confused and discouraged by events, we turn not to more words, but better ones. Phrases from the poem have entered the popular lexicon:
The widening gyre
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity
Slouches towards Bethlehem
We may think that the ground is crumbling beneath our feet, but that feeling is extraordinarily self-indulgent compared to the experiences of 100 years ago. The romantic ideals of European civilization crashed into the charnel house of the Great War, the effects of which still reverberate through arts and literature.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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