Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Things fall apart

One of the most oft-quoted, oft-used modern poems in the English language. I love Yeats but even those who are unfamiliar with his work for the most part would recognise some of the lines from 'The Second Coming'. It has so many applications, truly. One can see in this poem political prophecy, the vision of the horrible, criminal invasions of Iraq most recently... but it is in its religious and spiritual implications that the poem has the greatest significance.

Yeats was a Wordmaster as well as a visionary and his verses have inspired countless other artists and writers. The Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe wrote a series of books, and the title of the first was taken from Yeats' poem, as 'Things Fall Apart'.

Why do I think of this now? I feel my own life now resonates with the dire atsmosphere of 'The Second Coming.' 'Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.' Visions of the black expanse of Space where gravity has no power and objects that are torn from a central being revolve endlessly, pointlessly forever in the void. Yet, the centre MUST hold. The centre always must hold.

'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?'

On a lighter note, 'mere anarchy' is a lovely turn of phrase. This line perhaps has not received as much attention as some of the others, but it is brilliant. Anarchy historically has been one of the most terrifying spectres to haunt many political factions in our world and yet it is 'mere anarchy' in this vision of the apocalypse.

Finally, there is a certain irony in his statement, 'Surely the Second Coming is at hand'. For history has shown that the centre can fall apart in the 'civilised world' and yet reveal no Second Coming whatsoever. 'The worst are full of passionate intensity' in every era, including this one. It is the 'passionate intensity' of greed that drives the wheels of our world.

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