The Center Cannot Hold

by francine Hardaway on November 19, 2010

This poem, always one of my favorites, seems to have incredible relevance right now.

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?

–The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats

It was written in 1919, when Ireland was in the throes of a terrible political rebellion, and all of Europe was recovering from World War I. Russia had just undergone its Revolution as well. Things were pretty unsettled. And Ireland was poor.

Yeats was a mystic, an activist, an idealist, a lover. I’m not sure he was an optimist, however.

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