Perhaps the most-quoted poem in the English language is “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. For nearly a century different writers have cited one or more of its 22 lines written ninety-nine years ago which begins with:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
The second and third lines resonate most for me:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
Maybe it was world-wide demonstrations last week on Mayday, which has for more than a century been a day for the left to rally against capitalism. Masked, black-clad, anarchist ANTIFA demonstrators rioted once again in Europe, Canada, and America. In Paris where they burned cars and businesses and clashed with police and over 200 masked thugs were arrested. The left and the right in America are increasingly polarized since the 2016 election prompting renewed fears that maybe “the centre cannot hold” here.
Begun by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) sometime in the 1880s, Mayday demonstrations often turned into riots and became a worldwide phenomenon after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. That event, among others, shook Yeats and catalyzed his famous poem. Others included the “Great War,” or what we now call World War I, and Ireland’s “Easter Rebellion” which, after many unsuccessful attempts to gain Irish independence from Great Britain, did eventually result in liberating most of the island, but only after a long, brutal struggle.
Despite the religious tone implied by the poem’s title, Yeats was for the most part agnostic. Though born into what Irish historians call the wealthy “Protestant Ascendancy” in 1865, Christianity meant little to Yeats. He dabbled in mysticism and the occult and worked against the influence of Catholic Church in his native Ireland.
Despite the overwhelming prevalence of Catholic Irish peasantry in the independence movement, Yeats became a leader of sorts and a senator in the new Irish government around the time he won the Nobel Prize for literature. He wrote The Second Coming in 1919 when it seemed, as he described in the next four lines:
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.
Read the rest here.