26 September 2013

Poetry Thursday - Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" (via)

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?

Written in 1919, in the aftermath of WW1, the poem has been much referenced in popular culture - in films, book titles, paraphrases; there's a list here.
See an interactive online exhibition about the life and work of Yeats, at the National Library of Ireland, here. Of the poem, the exhibition notes say: "This complex poem has visionary qualities and was inspired in part by George Yeats' automatic writing. It is primarily an apocalyptic comment on the tide of history, a response to the populist revolutions which were changing and democratising Europe. Commentators have seen references in it to the French and Russian revolutions as well as to the Irish. 'The ceremony of innocence is drowned' is thought to refer to the execution of Marie Antoinette, for instance, while 'the judge nods before his empty dock' describes the empty official courts in Ireland after the First Dáil Éireann issued a decree setting up its own courts in June 1919. The poem contrasts strongly with 'Easter, 1916' where the poet seems to welcome the ideals and revolution; here he sees it as an entirely destructive force."

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