Monday, October 27, 2008

Slouching Toward Bethlehem

I've thought of the poem often these past few years, having been impressed by its black insistent predictions as an undergrad. I do feel like madness has been loosed on the world in the form of magical thinking coupled with greed and corruption. The best lack conviction and the worst have been full of passionate intensity.

Scholarly note: I was taught that the gyre was a 2,000 year epoch, and the epoch Yeats refers to is the era of Christianity, not that you'd really know it. Bloody second coming is what the radical right would just love.

Here's the poem in its entirety:

The Second Coming
by W.B. Yeats

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 Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the 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?

Krugman relates it to our fine mess in the markets:

The Widening Gyre

Published: October 26, 2008
Economic data rarely inspire poetic thoughts. But as I was contemplating the latest set of numbers, I realized that I had William Butler Yeats running through my head: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

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