I came across the Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, one of my favorites. Finding it was at first a pleasure – an old friend stopping by for a cup of tea and a peach.
I read the whole thing several times, remembering when I had memorized it and written a paper for a 20th Century Lit class. The words came back to me. After all these years, I could say it out loud looking out the window at the innocent sky…
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.”
The paper I wrote years ago took me forever; the poem was so metaphorical that at my tender age I could barely figure it out…except for those last two lines of the first stanza, which I figured out in adulthood fit all human times from the first written stories of human rage and envy.
The Second Coming was published in 1920, two years after the peace treaty was signed for “the war to end all wars.”
What Yeats wrote was a metaphorical description of WWI that a hundred years later I see as merely a prescient description of the horror that men would do with increasing precision – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine – each leader more finely tuning not only the “art” of war but the glee of it.
So, I have once again put The Second Coming in its box and tuned in the comedians of the day, those who make fun of the hubris and greed of our human leaders so serious about the threat of The Other that killing as many of them as possible is the only answer.
Comedians making fun of others is not a compassionate way to make a living, but it beats the celebration of the belligerent haters and warmongers and makes us laugh at the evil that men do and temper our propensity to become them.
Give me the funny people, the comics who in the true sense of glee invite us to laugh. In addition to their denigration of the mean men, I like to see the fits of pique brought to the surface from a joke or two about the strong men’s behavior, their inappropriate language, their inability to laugh if the joke’s on them. The tantrum tyrants when thwarted are two, three years old. None of them has a sense of humor. The stand-ups know just how to take the self-adulating leaders down a notch every day for their willingness to sacrifice the young soldiers as they set about going to war on the backs of women and children.
For your pleasure, or woe, the second stanza of The Second Coming:
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 final stanza tells the story of the supposed other side of the bellicose leaders. This is the insistence on one and only one religion – as demanding and cruel and prevaricating as they come, hardly a benign way to go, even as Yeats talks about waiting 20 centuries for the Messiah.