(evocative 1962 Coward-McCann dust jacket by George Salter)
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.
–William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
That falcon is pretty free and wild in the world today, flapping amok abroad in Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine, and elsewhere. That “blood-dimmed tide” of beheadings, home-grown terrorists, and “Convert or be killed” has become the news-fixture of the day. “The ceremony of innocence is drowned” is, of course, not just the dead kids in these nightmarish places, but also the 10-year-old soldiers trained to wage jihad on all infidels. In more civilized places, Obama, Harper, and others “lack all conviction” and say or do as little as possible as the violent crazies with their sick, narrow, evil agendas “Are full of passionate intensity”.
What goes around, comes around inevitably–Yeats is proven right again–and we are forced to face the human darkness all over again. The Beast Within, as it was correctly identified in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Our world today has become, basically, a time of limited, limiting political agendas on all levels of human societies and interpersonal engagements. We are witnessing what happens abroad when organized, unchecked evil takes over, denying all other possibilities and agendas except their violent, fanatical own. Now who will stop them and when before millions of other innocents get ‘converted’?
In W.H. Auden’s own classic prophecy, “There Will Be No Peace”, the poet speaks of how the “gale” of evil others will prophesy “your downfall” for the simple reason that “they do not like you” despite your, ironically, having done nothing to them:
Their cause, if they had one, is nothing to them now; They hate for hate’s sake.
In another poem, “O What Is That Sound”, Auden presents the consequences of innocent others’ passivity, indifference, and fear in the face of the threatening “scarlet soldiers”; when the chickens come home to roost, so to speak:
O it’s broken the lock and splintered the door, O it’s the gate where they’re turning, turning; Their boots are heavy on the floor And their eyes are burning.
Auden, Yeats, and others.Yes, the truly great poets have known, understood, and warned about the dark side of human nature human nature long before the rest of us.
“So why should young people study poetry in high schools or university anymore?” “It’s not relevant unlike learning how to operate the latest iPhone. How does it prepare them for life?” Doh.