So. As the U.S. presidential election draws to a close, are we “slouching toward Bethlehem” or are we slouching toward Armageddon? Regardless of our hope or fear, this pair of poems by William Butler Yeats offers us a rich reflection. They were Crittenden the world was at war and tensions between Ireland and England were at the boiling point.
The Second Coming
BY WILLIAM BUTLER 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 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?
Remorse For Intemperate Speech
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
I ranted to the knave and fool,
But outgrew that school,
Would transform the part,
Fit audience found, but cannot rule
My fanatic heart.
I sought my betters: though in each
Fine manners, liberal speech,
Turn hatred into sport,
Nothing said or done can reach
My fanatic heart.
Out of Ireland have we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.
I carry from my mother’s womb
A fanatic heart.
28th August 1931
4 thoughts on “Slouching Toward Bethlehem?”
Thanks again, Rita. The stress of the time seems to have spurred on your creativity. Danger has a way of doing that. I’m glad to be reminded of these Yeats poems. Reminds me that one never knows what grace may be lurking in unsuspected places and “slouches towards Bethlehem to be born” again.
You’ve got that right, Polly. Thank you for your presence here.
Thank you Rita. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to live through this in your own country, even observing from afar the whole situation is at once unbelievable and distressing. I wish you strength and peace! And thanks too for these words. Yeats was, I think, my first poetic crush, he seemed to somehow see into the soul of things, and his words carry as much impact and truth now as they did to me then as an impressionable teenager, indeed as when they we written generations ago…
Hi, Amy. I’m glad you got to glimpse Yeats again. I am picking him up again now I am old enough to understand him. Yes, the campaign is terrible…more terrible if one is an empath. The thick aura of negativity and fear and shame is so thick the only way to come out whole is to disconnect and hunker down into the light.
Try to find the podcast Radiolab on American public radio (pbs.org) and listen to the October 23 story about a man who learned how to deal with a recurring nightmare with lucid dreaming. It isn’t posted yet, but I’ll keep a look out and send you the link when I see it. It was very good.