March 18, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Part 4: W.B. Yeats

It is very hard for me to choose one Yeats poem to include, so I'll probably put up a few more in the coming days (by my count, the end of St. Patrick's week is this Sunday when our town's parade happens). Of the many Yeats poems I often come back to, this is probably the foremost. Back for one of the many Irish Lit classes I took in college, I wrote a paper on Yeats and his interest in mysticism and the occult, and focused largely on this poem. For such a short poem, he packs much in. It was first published in 1921 (a turbulent time for Ireland), and is all at once a comment on the current state of society (both in Ireland and the larger world), a warning of things to come, a reference to an ancient past, and an invocation of mystical elements. Every word in it counts; the language of it builds and ebbs and creates a beautiful rhythm that reinforces these many levels of the poem. It is such an important poem, and so beautiful.

"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?
-William Butler Yeats, 1921
(Image via)

1 comment:

  1. I made Jonathan read this to me over the summer. You should find a random Irish person and do the same, it really adds to the effect. Also, you really LOVE this poem. I knew you were going to write about it when I saw there was a Yeats themed post.