April is National Poetry Month, and three quarters of the days are already gone. Still not too late for me to offer a poetry post. At present, I’m reading Joan Didion’s essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem (more about that in a later post). To start off her book, Didion uses W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”, from which her book title originates.
Yeats wrote the poem in 1919, shortly after WWI; it was published in 1920. Didion used it like an epigraph for her book published in 1968, about fifty years later, apparently finding it speaks to her collection of essays on her experiences in 1960’s America.
Now almost another fifty years later, the poem still has not lost its relevance. Yeats’ mythical references aside, and just listen to the clearer and more direct words, I can hear the Poet’s voice speak hauntingly to our present world.
The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
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?
Especially the first stanza… hear what I mean?