Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats

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?

So far, I've seen the final verses of this poem used to lament the coming administrations of both presidential candidates, which is rich considering it is journalists and pundits who are employing verses that are based on some knowledge of Christianity, something that seems beyond the fragile intellect of professional writers and talkers.

A lot of modernism is based on a fear of the coarseness of the contemporary age and what it portends for the future.  Yeats lived from 1865 to 1939 and saw the transformation of the Victorian Age through the carnage of WWI to the beginnings of world-wide fascism.  Written, as it was, the year after the Armistice, Yeats is reacting to the devastation of Europe during the previous five years, between trench warfare, poison gas, tanks, machine guns, clumsily re-drawn national borders, and the devastation of the continent's male population, and cannot help but expect that the second coming, as based on the text of The Book of Revelation, is about to be known through the birth of the "rough beast" that is the anti-Christ.