Monday, 4 July 2016

Yeats Saw This Coming

Even former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Lord Sacks says the present worldwide political storm is like nothing he’s seen in his lifetime.

“What we are witnessing throughout the West,” he  wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph and distributed to his email subscribers, “is a new politics of anger” that is hitting all western democracies, including the United States.

W B YeatsBut then in part illustration of his point, Rabbi Sacks did not use a Jewish source but remarked: “W B Yeats’s vision has come to pass. The centre no longer holds. Things fall apart. Anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

The phrase comes from the Irish Nobel laureate’s 1919 poem The Second Coming which has no Christian allusion but whose ‘rough beast’, suggests Nick Tabor in The Paris Review, is intent on wreaking universal havoc.

Tabor continues: “Yeats began writing the poem in January 1919, in the wake of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and political turmoil in his native Ireland. But the first stanza captures more than just political unrest and violence. Its anxiety concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them.” These words, I suggest most respectfully, could well be those of Rabbi Sacks!

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?


© Natalie Wood (04 July 2016)