June 13th marks the birthday of one of the greats of Modernist poetry, William Butler Yeats. To really understand an appreciation of Yeats, all you need is an example of his work. The Second Coming is a fantastic example of the Modernists’ attempts to couch the post WWI malaise in their various art forms and is, in my not really very humble opinion, one of the best poems of all time.
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?
If that doesn’t hit you right where it hurts, I don’t really know what to do with you.