Yeats, the Second Coming and today
by Greg Stone
In 1919 William Butler Yeats wrote:
Yeats was responding to a specific conflict in Ireland when he wrote this, but his words could not be more prophetic today. From my perspective, the "centre cannot hold" and is not holding right now. Terrorism is anarchy - and our response the "blood-dimmed tide." Innocence has been drowned, the best do lack all conviction, and the worst) are full of "passionate intensity."
Surely some revelation is at hand? But what?
TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
Have we turned loose forces we cannot control - forces both at home and abroad? Can we whistle the falcon down, or has he gone to hunt as he likes? (You might think of the falcon in terms of the Russian's old buddies that we know today as the Northern Alliance - or in terms of an attorney general who sounds more and more like Dr. Strangelove every day.)
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
"Mere anarchy?" Well, there wasn't anything that was "mere" about the terrorists attack on the World Trade Center - but it was anarchy. A criminal act that we choose to interpret as an act of war. It was not the act of a foreign nation ( like the attack on Pearl Harbor) but of a dissatisfied group that has no nation. And what of the anthrax attacks? Are they from a group? A nation? An individual? Who's responsible? How little does it take to cause incredible pain and suffering? Take your pick. The days of big budget terrorism are numbered - a little work in the wrong lab and a few bucks for postage and you can kill people and shut down Congress. For even less you can scare the hell out of New Bedford high school - our own teenagers toy with the monstrous notion of wanton killing. What have we let out of the bottle, fed by fear, hate, and loathing?
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
"Blood-dimmed tide" it is, and all wrapped up in red, white,
and blue - arising out of the ashes and tears of September 11. Where did
the events start that brought us to September 11? Was it on July 3, 1979
when President Carter
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Well, it's hard to say who the "best" are these days, though among current leaders Colin Powell seems to fit this category and Donald Rumsfeld has some surprisingly honest moments. As to the "worst" - certainly Osama bin Laden and some of his Taliban buddies qualify for being filled with "passionate intensity" of the worst kind. In my book so do folks like Ashcroft and Bush. Both come across as crusaders and if you've read your history - Bush obviously hasn't - we can not take pride what was done in those crusades.
Somewhere in sands
of the desert
And what is this shape? Or who? Hussein? bin Laden? Arafat? And are those "shadows of the indignant desert birds" our planes and helicopters? I see birds of prey at best, but more likely vultures feeding on carrion - the tattered remnants of a once hopeful, now battered people.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
And what a chilling question, for in this season
of "peace on earth, good will toward men," what is being born
in Bethlehem today is not the Christ child, but some horrible beast and
are not we the midwives, assisting at its awful birth? Or do we really
believe God favors killing and has elected us to decide who should live
and who should die?
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Last updated December 3, 2001
While thinking about what I wanted to write, bits and pieces of "The Second Coming" crept into my mind. In researching it on the Web I found an interesting site that showed I was hardly the first to see this poem in this context.
A Unitarian pastor in Atlanta made it the focus of a sermon which can be found here.