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Source of strength

Posted by William Fennie at Aug 07, 2010 02:50 PM |

W.B Yeats' poem retains its power and relevance 90 years on

Source of strength

Greek icon of the Second Coming

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

               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: 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?


I imagine all manner of commentators will refer to this poem, if they haven't already -  so aptly does it capture our present state of affairs. Each will bring their interpretation to bear, employing the poem to make their case, of course.

Let's simply agree that "these are the times that try men's (and women's) souls" - a time of radical restructuring, chaos and, for many, terror. Not car bombs (though there's that to deal with, too) but the terrifying experience of seeing one's committed world view turned inside out.

The voices of the fearful are strong in the land. Strength, however, lies not in rage but in the quiet faith of knowing we are up to the challenge, that we can survive the reversals; that we can respond reflectively, not reflexively, to the barrage of demands being thrown into our face; that ultimately it's in us to do the right thing.

In us lies the wholeness depicted in this beautiful icon; in us lies the capacity to call it forth.


Interesting note apropos of nothing at all : The years of Yeats' life correspond exactly to those of Paul Valéry, but six years earlier (1865-1939; 1871-1945). Yeats was born on 13 June and Valéry on 30 October.