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Yeats poem not uplifting, but still offers important insight

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Note: This column is one of my longest. The concluding comments will be on my blog, No Holds Barred, at timesledger.com.

Readers of my column and blog may realize that, sarcasm aside, I am an optimist about life. I have had a good life and am grateful for that.

Often maintaining an optimistic attitude is hard. Like many Americans, regardless of political and other loyalties, I am distressed by the coarseness and sometimes disgusting nature of our public discourse.

I was taught to avoid ad hominem comments in arguments, but more and more, it seems, such slurs and insults appear to be the only aspects of discussion that people remember. We are rapidly becoming a nation of extremists on so many matters that some commentators are using the term “the center cannot hold.”

I read that line many years ago when I first came across the work of William Butler Yeats, the Anglo-Irish poet and playwright who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1924.

In 1919, at the end of the most devastating war at that time, Yeats wrote the poem “The Second Coming.” As the years go by, we forgot that World War I killed and maimed tens of millions of people, left much of Europe in shambles and destroyed governments, countries and, in many ways, the peace agreements that ended the war, which set the stage for the horrors of World War II. In Britain, a whole generation of young men was wiped out.

There is no optimism in “The Second Coming,” but there is much to be gained by us today in the United States from reading and thinking about what Yeats wrote. He did not live to see the “rough beast” which would be World War II. He died in January 1939, a few months before the whole world was set on fire once again.

I hope those who read the prophetic words of Yeats will keep and read them again and again. We can avoid the “rough beast” in our country’s affairs. The center — American spelling — can hold. Indeed, I believe, it must hold.

l

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 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?

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Reader Feedback

Ed Broderick from RockawayBeach says:
Hello Ken K
I too have lived a long life and have never witnessed Peace. Is there such a thing? Now those with curved knives offer to shoe the way. God help us! I wonder would you do me the honor of commenting on this poem?
Thank You Be Well
Ed Broderick
BIG
The day was snappy crispy clear
A steady breeze blew me here
Once again by the ocean’s edge
My mind recalls a long ago pledge

Made when I first saw this sight
Aware it was created by God’s might
A body of water as far as you see
Anything larger what could it be

My gaze traveled to the sky above
To witness a bigger sign of His love
Bigger than big in every direction
Another testament to His perfection

So I renew the promise made long ago
To honor His world as older I grow
EdBroderick
Aug. 5, 2012, 5:56 pm
Ed Broderick from RockawayBeach says:
Hello Ken K
I too have lived a long life and have never witnessed Peace. Is there such a thing? Now those with curved knives offer to shoe the way. God help us! I wonder would you do me the honor of commenting on this poem?
Thank You Be Well
Ed Broderick
BIG
The day was snappy crispy clear
A steady breeze blew me here
Once again by the ocean’s edge
My mind recalls a long ago pledge

Made when I first saw this sight
Aware it was created by God’s might
A body of water as far as you see
Anything larger what could it be

My gaze traveled to the sky above
To witness a bigger sign of His love
Bigger than big in every direction
Another testament to His perfection

So I renew the promise made long ago
To honor His world as older I grow
EdBroderick
Aug. 5, 2012, 5:56 pm
Ed Broderick from RockawayBeach says:
Hello Mr K
Another I wrote awhile ago.

I Wonder
What is it that we pray for
We wish each other to strive for
It seems never to be attained
Nor easily explained
I have lived a long life
And have always witnessed strife
Many words have been used
To keep us all confused
Our entire history
Is not a mystery
War has been forever
Peace has been never
By any other name
War my friend is still the same
Be it a Crusade for God above
Or a viscous show for satan below
It’s been with us since time began
I wonder if we take a stand
Can Peace befall our land
I wonder I wonder

EdBroderick
Aug. 5, 2012, 6:01 pm
Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
EdBroderick: Thank you very much for your comment and especially for sharing your poetry with me. I find that I am very much in agreement about your thoughts. In the blog accompanying the column, I will be quoting from the President of Georgetown University and St. Augustine about civility in discourse. Every day, it seems, we find that more and more people declare they are so sure about their opinions that they will listen to no one else. It is a sad commentary on our nation, I am afraid.
"The Second Coming" in the Yeats poem, many commentators have stated, is about the coming of the Anti-Christ, who will come before the true Second Coming. That is certainly clear, it seems to me, from the description of the creature "slouching toward Bethlehem." I don't know how "religious" Yeats was. He was a Protestant, but very much involved in the independence of Ireland.
Please keep writing your poetry and other thoughts and thanks again for sharing them with me.
Ken Kowald
Aug. 6, 2012, 10:47 am
Ed Broderick from Rockaway Beach says:

Merry Christmas to ALL

Gift
of Gifts
On a winter's night
With snow so deep
A family lays in anxious sleep
For the day that is about to dawn
Is the day that saw a Savior born
Beneath their tree the gifts are few
But what is there will surely do
For in that house is an abiding love
Between each within and for God above
A love not shaken by the lack of wealth
But blessed many times by the gift of health
A bond not weakened by time nor it's test
For they know that by God they've been blessed
Through the windows pour the first rays of day
Its to church they travel to sing and to pray
Tis then they are witness to God and His love
Because for all there is a gift from above
A gift of a babe His only Son
He is there! He is there!
He is there in a manger
He has given us each other
and keeps us from danger
To our house this year may
He not be a stranger
* * * * * * * *
Ed Broderick
* * * * * * * * *
Dec. 23, 2013, 9:44 pm
Ed Broderick from Rockaway Beach says:
2014
NEW YEAR
Resolutions

EXCESS SIZE
Oh what did we do in days gone bye
to make our figures pleasing to the eye?
We walked everywhere we were destined to go
and returned again whether shine or snow.
Kept our home neat as a pin
and in doing so remained slim.

In my house we have a magic stick.
Its amazing how it does the trick.
It'll keep you trim and looking good.
For all to admire in the neighborhood.
Just a wooden stick crowned with straw
It works both ways; push or draw.

The hawkers say you must exercise
to rid yourself of your excess size.
But you and I know otherwise.
Just Waltz that stick around the room
and at home you will always have a groom.
Ed Broderick
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Dec. 23, 2013, 9:48 pm

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