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Thursday, January 28, 2016

What stays news

John Singer Sargent,
portrait of Yeats, 1908
Yeats died on this date. Auden says, "What instruments we have agree / The day of his death was a dark cold day." All these years of loving Yeats's poems, and I still lean on him for the news that matters.

   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.

"He disappeared in the dead of winter." Requiescat in pace.


  1. I was a little mesmerized by the beauty of this poem, to be honest, to take in its full meaning immediately.
    When the full meanings sank in - still beautiful.
    Thank you, Marly.

    1. It's a portion of "The Second Coming."
      Yeats is potent.

    2. Although I should say that the entire poem does not make full sense if you don't know anything about his "A Vision," and theories of 2000-year gyres of history, each of which gives way to its opposite. So, according to Yeats, we had 2000 years of Greco-Roman history (which I think he imaginatively sees as starting with Leda and Jove), followed by 2000 years of Christian history. In the poem he foresees imminent disaster as the next gyre begins-as he thought it did in the 20th century.

  2. Marly, you know, of course, that "The Second Coming" is one of my favorite poems; thanks for the tribute/reminder about Yeats, a man whose "creative nonfiction" mythmaking bewilders me even as I am drawn into the vortex. I wonder if we (or enough of us) will recognize the slouching beast among us.

    1. I don't believe in the historical theories or esoteric practices of Yeats, but I love his beauty and power. "A Vision" is not history!

      But I think we can all sympathize with that feeling of imminent disaster in our time, the world askew, certain forces longing for the end of time, terrorists abroad in the lands, and refugees drowning in the sea.

    2. Oh dear!
      I have no patience with those who feel imminent disaster in our time is inevitable. I find it rather egoistic, to be honest.
      Why does everything have to happen 'in our time'?
      Are we so important in the scheme of history?
      Looking around... I doubt it!
      I think the world gets more peaceful, over all - but people focus on less good things in it?

    3. But people do feel it, and have felt it in every time! It's part of the ebb and flow of history.

      When I was little, we had to "duck and cover." That was the same sensation that I see in others now.

      But Yeats is not concerned so much about that but about the gyres of history, and how one gives way to another.

  3. RE: "The Second Coming" making perfect sense, it doesn't really, but nonetheless, it is compelling. Much poetry that really works is this way, and Yeats produced a number of pieces of this sort.
    I confess I couldn't get through The Vision, but I love the poems.

    1. Well, when you use your own weird scaffolding of elaborate beliefs, there are going to be times when the reader can feel it but doesn't know exactly what you mean.... Inevitable.

  4. I know what you're saying, Paul, and I would love to feel more optimistic--among all the young people just getting started in their lives, I have 8 nephews and nieces. But in a dream I had early this morning, a bunch of us were discussing the current zeitgeist, and someone said, "It does feel like endtimes. If you can't see it, you're colorblind; if you can't smell it, you have no sense of smell." I never read Yeats' "The Vision," but perhaps humankind goes through a kind of apocalypse again and again in the course of history. Personally,we do. If we're lucky enough to be long-lived, we live to see an era in which the world we were born into in many ways has ceased to exist. Courage means heart--good people always have that.

    1. Exactly how I feel about growing older--that the world eventually is not our world anymore (if it ever was.)

  5. Long ago, and in another world, Kenneth Clarke (later Lord Clarke) brought to an end his magisterial TV series, Civilisation, by saying that no doubt viewers would have found him a fuddy-duddy (very few did) but that these were his views. Branching off he referred to Yeats ("the only true genius I have ever known") and then recited in his marvellously aristocratic voice the lines you are presently celebrating.

    Most of my life up to then had, if I exclude Shakespeare, been spent outside poetry's influence. But, stone that I was, I could not fail to respond. Two decades or more were to pass before I suddenly found the need to write a sonnet. The impulse seemed inexplicable and perhaps it's too fanciful to say that it was born in the falcon's gyre and - more particularly - the steely conciseness of those last two lines, since I was at the time a working journalist. But poetry's a fancy isn't it? So why not?

    1. I must have seen the series not too long after it was made, as I have a memory of watching them--perhaps in high school? Yes, he was quite patrician, wasn't he, and grand and unrelenting in his view of high art.

      That's a good fancy--orderly words born out of things that fall apart. Yeats is, I believe, good at planting seeds.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.