Some Yeats to Start off the Day

I thought I’d start off the day with some Irish poetry: 


    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: a waste of desert sand;
    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
    Wind 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?

                                                      –W.B. Yeats (1921)

This is one of Yeats’ most famous poems, although it is difficult to explicate thematically, and even its most enthusiastic admirers usually have trouble explaining why they like it so much. Two lines from the poem are occasionally quoted, to this day: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” is often used to suggest that order inevitably gives way to disorder (Ed Harris said it in The Stand when the super-virus was wiping out earth’s population).

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?… is also sometimes referred to, mostly because it’s creepy and unsettling. It suggests the coming of the Messiah a second time (thus, towards Bethlehem), but in the form of a terrible “beast.” 

This poem was written in 1921, and is commonly understood to refer to the world in the wake of World War I. The imagery is Apocalyptic. The “gyre” referred to in line 1 is the falcon flying around in a circle.


About hubzbubz

Currently residing in Brooklyn.
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