Friday, February 7, 2020

Wild Fridays #5: The Living Dead



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: 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?




– William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)





















Does this even need  commentary? I’m guessing it expresses what many of us feel about the present state of the world. 



(If you can't help thinking that 'the living dead' refers to us in this instance, well that thought has crossed my mind too.)



However, the poem has been considered difficult and ambiguous; and admittedly, while the general message is clear, some details are obscure. They are explained in this down-loadable pdf, which also says:



‘... for all its metaphorical complexity, “The Second Coming” actually has a relatively simple message: it basically predicts that time is up for humanity, and that civilization as we know it is about to be undone. Yeats wrote this poem right after World War I, a global catastrophe that killed millions of people. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that the poem paints a bleak picture of humanity, suggesting that civilization’s sense of progress and order is only an illusion.’




Since its first publication, it has often been popular reading at times of upheaval and alarm (so the internet informs us, based on how frequently it has been quoted at such times).



That in itself is somewhat comforting. This is not the only period when the end of the world has appeared imminent – or at least of the world we know – and yet here we all still are.



I admit, this time looks like the worst. Hard to imagine we’ll ever recover, even if we (by which I mean our Governments) start taking action immediately. Well, we shall see – one way or another. And if we live long enough.



But that’s the thing, isn’t it? None of us will live forever. We can’t know what any future beyond our own lifetime may hold. People in the Middle Ages, as they died of The Black Death, must have thought the Apocalypse was upon them. Wikipedia describes it as ‘one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.’  And yet, it was eventually over – ironically, with the help (in England) of another huge disaster, the Great Fire of London, which must at that time have seemed like just another sign of Apocalypse; certainly not a rescue. Throughout history there have been many other wars, diseases and natural disasters which in their times must have seemed like the end of everything.



(No, I haven’t become a climate change denier; and anyone who has been reading my latest poems will know that living through recent events in Australia has convinced me of the immediacy and gravity of the global danger. Not that I needed convincing of anything except the fact it’s already upon us, and that was not exactly unexpected. I’m one of the many who have been screaming for decades about what was sure to come if we didn’t mend our ways, whilst Governments consistently refused to listen – and I’d much, much rather have been proved wrong.)



So yes, the situation is dire. This time it might well be the end – for humanity, and for the countless other species we have already ended, let alone those we are still wiping out. But we don’t know and can’t know how our planet will regenerate; in what other wonderful ways life may go on. At this point, we can say that it may not even be too late for us. We can’t go back next year to the way things were, nor the year after that, etc. (Sure, some trees may grow back, the koalas might be saved from total extinction – only to be devastated all over again by next summer’s fires, and the next and the next….)  But eventually, something will change. Either we’ll change it, or after our demise the planet will change itself.



Meanwhile, Yeats says it for us. We may use his words as catharsis, or take them as a warning to be heeded.



[If you think the ’rough beast’ has already emerged, in the form of some political leader or other, I probably wouldn’t disagree.]


I doubt if Yeats's work has ever been out of print. You can find it at his Amazon page, and other places on the web.  He was an important poet in his day, addressing major issues of the time, working to promote Irish literature and re-tell some of its folk tales, and composing some of the most memorable love poetry ever written. He also wrote plays, stories, and a book on an esoteric system of his own and his wife's devising.

Wikipedia calls him ' one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature' and adds, 'A pillar of the Irish literary establishment, he helped to found the Abbey Theatre, and in his later years served two terms as a Senator of the Irish Free State.'

He also had a lifelong interest in the occult, and was an early member of The Order of the Golden Dawn (along with people like A.E. Waite and Aleister Crowley, who, amongst other claims to fame, created the two most influential modern Tarot decks).

Above all, he was a beautiful poet: my favourite still, after many years.


Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).  Both these images are in the Public Domain. The Sphinx picture is also licensed under Wikimedia Commons with no attribution required.

23 comments:

  1. I have carried this poem around in my head since I first read it many, many years ago. I love Yeats and, when I first lived in Ireland, pregnant and then a first-time mother, I borrowed every book on Yeats I could find at the library and read them voraciously. It was through reading about Yeats that I learned about The Golden Dawn. It’s been a while since I read ‘The Second Coming’, so thank you for today’s Living Dead, Rosemary. It echoes the way we feel about the world at the moment and reminds us that it we are not the only generation(s) to feel that:
    ‘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’.

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    1. A friend of mine once said that when some wonderful line of poetry comes into your head, perfect for something that's happening just then, 'If it's not Shakespeare it's always Yeats.' She was pretty much right, in my experience.

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  2. *snort* There are a number of US politicians that could fill the role of rough beast. It's more of a legion of beasts.

    I think I'll need to revisit Yeat's work soon. Beautiful words are a comfort in times like this. I normally like to keep up with the news but I've had to carve out time periods to detox when it gets to be too much. Spending some time revisiting old faves sounds like a good way to spend a break.

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    1. And not only US politicians, perhaps.

      Yes, great gobs of beauty might be one of the few things that could help us emotionally in times like these.

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    2. Oh I've heard Morrison is a real POS too, and let's not leave out Duerte, or Putin either.

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    3. And then there's Johnson ... but you're right, I was thinking closer to (my) home.

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  3. there are many things right now that can wipe us out. rogue politicians, another great war, climate change or a virus.

    right now, over here, we are at the beginning of a coronavirus outbreak. because we had much contact with mainland China (tourists and foreign workers), the spread to our shores was pretty fast. the colour-coded crisis situation has just been upgraded to orange, meaning the disease is deemed severe and spreads easily from person to person, but not spread widely yet. we are trying to live life normally, if that is possible.
    perhaps this comment is off-topic for this post, and i am sorry for that.

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    1. No, it's right on topic in these Apocalyptic times.
      Do please keep safe!!! The latest news I saw this morning is that it can spread through the eyes, so it's a good idea to wear protective eyewear. Lucky for me that I always wear my spectacles, and even luckier that I live where I do, with less likelihood of infection than those in the big cities.
      Please, dear Lee San, 'live life normally' whilst taking every precaution!

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    2. yes, it can spread through the eyes, this bug is extremely contagious. right now, people are panic-buying up foodstuff at the supermarkets. is it a really bad sign?
      thank you, Rosemary. i will try to live life normally and that means i should go back to posting poems. :)

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  4. What an excellent choice for your post. I agree with what's been commented and find good advice in delving into beauty as respite from all the frightening things that are happening. Thank you so much for this post.

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  5. Thank you! I will pull my Yeats book and enjoy it tonight ... by the fire as it is a cold and blustery day.

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    1. What a great idea! He is one I never tire of, always so richly rewarding all over again.

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    2. (I trust that, even if you are sufficiently 'old and grey', you don't do too much 'nodding' by that fire.)

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  6. This is such a timely and poignant poem, Rosemary! It's incredible how Yeats work proves to be prophetic at this time considering the state of our world. His words are both catharsis and caution in my opinion .. and I am amazed by the stunning use of language no matter its metaphorical complexity. I'll be sure to delve into more of his work.💝

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    1. Oh what treats you have in store, Sanaa! You'll love him!

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  7. Ooh I see my reply never posted ..I thought it was just awaiting approval. Hmmmm

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  8. Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik (PKP)February 9, 2020 at 7:34 AM
    Here goes again... I’ve always read “the centre cannot hold” as obviously a troubling specter, Yet in times such as these where hatred, lawlessness, and vindictiveness gather as a toxic postule perhaps the centre not holding can inspire an image of this imagined infected hot toxic boil finally bursting and the pus draining so that a coming new age can be born. Perhaps.

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  9. Rosemary, you are indeed "on track," "barking up the right tree." I see us as having short sighted vision in these matters, "maximize profits" for us and family and the dire "won't (didn't) happen on my watch." 


    This was my 'start' on Friday.   "But things happened," (sorry, that was my fifth cliche, looks like I'm ready for Wednesday--Cliche Day) so now I'll quit and go read the whole lot more comments that you had back when.   I'm sure I would day some of them, this is enough.
    ..

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Jim; for starting and persisting!

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  10. Rosemary, I'm right with you in the hope that this words spark action. We, as a species, seem to be incredibly dense when it comes to taking care of the world that sustains us. But I really, really, really hope that we can figure out that if we go around trampling on everyone and everyone, we'll end up hungry, homeless, and alone.

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    1. The thing is, we do already know how to make things better – now to persuade the greedy and powerful that they need the better ways too!

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