Rifftides reader Eric Bruskin reacts to yesterday’s quote from Bertrand Russell:
Was this before or after Yeats put it much more memorably:
The best lack all conviction while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity …
That is not the only memorable line in William Butler Yeats’s The Second Coming (1921). I wonder whether any poem has had greater effect on observers of the chaos of the Twentieth Century and the early years of this one. It inspired, among other writings, the title of Joan Didion’s brilliant book of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
The Second Coming
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
On the off chance that you need help with Yeats’s mysticism and symbols (I’m raising my hand), here’s a start.