Thursday, November 19, 2015

A poem for the times - WB Yeats

     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: 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?


The Second Coming was written in 1919 in the aftermath
of the first World War. The above version of the poem is
as it was published in the edition of Michael Robartes and
the Dancer
 dated 1920 (there are numerous other
versions of the poem). The preface and notes in the book
contain some philosphy attributed to Robartes. 

This printing of the poem has a page break between lines
17 and 18 making the stanza division unclear. Following
the two most similar drafts given in the Parkinson and
Brannen edited edition of the manuscripts, I have put a
stanza break there. (Interestingly, both of those drafts
have thirty centuries instead of twenty.) The earlier drafts
also have references to the French and Irish Revolutions
as well as to Germany and Russia.

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