Thursday, March 27, 2008

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun

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?

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I stuck a copy of this oft-quoted gem up here. Has anyone done a count of the number of other works that have been entitled from these lines (or from allusions to them)? At least two administration-authored reports on Iraq have taken their titles from this poem. (And just over a year ago there was a NYT op-ed piece pointing out the irony.) But no matter how you read it, its images and language stick.

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