The last few weeks have stirred me to write, given the times we are in and the unknown paths we tread. W B Yeats’ poem resonates with me today, in between the defeat of the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement from the EU and a vote of ‘No Confidence” in the same government. A brilliant rendition by Joni Mitchell also captures the haunting uncertainty of what is being released and revealed
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
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?
Nick Tabor in the Paris Review explains some of the context for this poem –
“Yeats began writing the poem in January 1919, in the wake of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and political turmoil in his native Ireland [Easter Rising in 1916 and before the UK Government sent in the Black and Tans]. But the first stanza captures more than just political unrest and violence. Its anxiety concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them. It’s the same form of despair we see in, say, Ivan Karamazov.
Of course, twentieth-century history did turn more horrific after 1919, as the poem forebodes. The narrator suggests something like the Christian notion of a “second coming” is about to occur, but rather than earthly peace, it will bring terror. As for the slouching beast, the best explanation is that it’s not a particular political regime, or even fascism itself, but a broader historical force, comprising the technological, the ideological, and the political. A century later, we can see the beast in the atomic bomb, the Holocaust, the regimes of Stalin and Mao, and all manner of systematized atrocity.” (Nick Tabor, No Slouch, the PARIS REVIEW 7/4/15)
You can add the rise of intolerance of people of difference, violent demonstrations on the street of Paris. It feels like part of what is being revealed is the failure of the western political systems to effectively represent and care for its peoples. Their rage, with complex and deep roots, lays the straw in the stable.
I have felt that 2019 will be the year of the ‘other’ and I can only respond as an individual and take responsibility for I treat how people who are different to me, make different choices and believe different things. One way to stand against the beast is to move in the opposite spirit, with kindness and generosity. And of course, to pray.