Thursday, June 17, 2010

W.B. Yeats--The Second Coming

The Easter 1916 uprising failed, a huge effort for Irish separatism. Yeats knew all of its leaders and was in love with one of them. Domestic political revolution all over Europe was channelled into the "Great War", World War I. Most of the artists and many of the writers during that time, involved in anarchist, expressionist, futurist or other burgeoning art movements were either killed in Europe--or--went a little crazy afterward.

You can extrapolate to other fields and start counting the loss.

After the First World War,  ten years ensued where people tried to forget the past. I think that many believed that there was no future, or were completely disenchanted by what society seemed to provide.

So Yeats wrote "The Second Coming" in 1919 or 1920, after years of disappointment at home and abroad. In this lead-up, I have given my personal beliefs about the antecedents of this poem. A world gone mad, and nobody paying attention.

The first stanza especially speaks to me.  But I should let Yeats do the talking:

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 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


The Bug said...

You know, I've of course heard quotes from this poem all my life, but I had not read it through until now. Wow! And doesn't it seem as though every generation can embrace this poem as its anthem?

Ann T. said...

Dear The Bug,
Isn't it an amazing poem? When I read it this time, I realized the winding "shadows of indignant birds" meant the Beast fed on Death. I don't know how I missed it.

Yes, I do think each generation thinks the next one is going to heck. Maybe that should reassure us. I hope so!

Thanks for coming by!
Ann T.

Linnnn said...

A friend writes apocalyptic stories and in response to one of them just this week I simply entered The Second Coming by Yeats. His was a story of artificial life...This poem is a sign of our times right now. I have a feeling things are going to change pretty drastically in the very near future.

Ann T. said...

Dear Linnnn,

I cut my explanations back on the post (blah, blah, blah, right) but one thing that particularly concerns me: the way we use language now does not encompass reality, or even a working reality.

We don't know it, but we're searching for a new language. The one we have, (p.c. and anti-p.c. BOTH, self-help language, and Tweeting etc)is not fit for the tasks before us. We are so in need of a new language that we may grab a still newer one that is worse.

I really feel it is time to be careful in the world and examine all beliefs and words carefully. However, as The Bug points out, Yeats was dealing with this too, and every generation feels it some.

But yes, I think drastic is showing up, or at least the cloud of it, now.

Thanks for writing in,
Very much,

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
Thanks for posting this, I've seen bits but never the whole.

Ugh, I do find it a bit of a downer though, despite what I know my faith says about the situation.

I appreciate the expanding of my horizons, however.

the Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Oh, ugh! No downer intended, esactly. I think diagnosis is the antecedent to cure.

Anyway, happy day to you!
Ann T.