Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry Rorschah

My good friend Karen came to visit today and brought books of poetry for me to borrow. What a wonderful surprise. The only thing better than buying new books is having a friend loan you books she thinks you'll like. I spent most of the afternoon curled up with an anthology of “The Classic Hundred All-Time Favorite Poems” and found that I recognized many more of them than I imagined I might.

I’ve been marking the ones that especially resonate with Post-it notes. I imagine my favorites may reveal a strange Rorschach interpretation of my inner psyche.

I thought I’d post one that I’ve heard the final lines to many times, but I didn’t know who wrote it and I’d never read the whole thing. It felt very fresh and eerily prescient, although the poem was written in 1919 and published in 1920. For those of you interested in dipping back into some poetry, enjoy.

The Second Coming

By William Butler Yeats

1865-1939

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: somewhere in sands of the desert
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
Reel 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?

13 comments:

debra said...

19 years ago, when our oldest daughter was a baby, we traded with a local poet. His beloved dog had died, and he wanted an urn for his dog's ashes.He couldn't afford to buy one, so we traded. We made an urn for Trauffaut, and he wrote a poem for our daughter. I read it and it was wonderful; but nothing was as beautiful as Daniel reading it to me.
Thanks for these thoughtful posts, Lisa.

Larramie said...

Debra was eloquent, while all I have to add is Happy Spring!

Billy said...

This is one of W.B's most well known. It's so well done. It was, as I recall, an expression of his doubts as to what Christianity had brought into the world--hence, the last line. Of course he was tangled up with mediums and clairvoyants and such and lived a rather interesting life with very strange women LOL. Thanks for sharing this dynamite poem. Not enough people read Yeats (or even know how to pronounce his name -:)

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks for running this one. I love this poem but don't have a copy of it. Very powerful

Lana Gramlich said...

Ah Yeats...a Druid among poets!

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

I've always liked this poem, but couldn't remember the title or the author, fie for shame. Thanks for sharing it - I shall not forget it again. Any thoughts on how to interpret it? And I am indeed South African, born and bred and proud. J.M. Coetzee has lived in Australia for several years though... I must confess I have not read many of his works - I find them a little bleak. Go here and read what I said in the comments for more on the subject.

steve said...

Lisa--I just learned my favorite Yeats poem wasn't really by Yeats, but a Yeats's attempt to reconstruct in English an old Irish poem. A tune was added to it and there are sung versions in YouTube:

Down By the Salley Gardens

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks for posting the poem. Like you, I had heard the last line but had not read the full poem.

How is "Yeats" pronounced? I had thought YEETS.

Ello said...

Nice! I vaguely remember it but enjoyed reading it again. Have a lovely weekend.

steve said...

It's pronounced "Yates."

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks, Steve.

Sphinx Ink said...

Thanks so much for posting the poem, Lisa. I read some of Yeats' work when I was in college, but don't remember that one. I was amazed to discover that poem is the source of several phrases that authors have used as book titles, or that I've seen quoted in various literary works. For instance, Robert B. Parker used "the widening gyre" and "ceremony of innocence" as titles of early books in the Spenser series. I've seen "things fall apart, the center cannot hold" and "what rough beast...slouches toward Bethlehem to be born" quoted in various places.

Yeats was a wonderful poet.

Lisa said...

Debra, What a lovely story. Artists, and especially poets are woefully under-compensated for what they create.

Larramie, Happy Spring to you too -- that's today, isn't it?

Billy, I already loved this poem, but now you've whet my appetite to learn more about the poet -- although I've always known his name and how to say it and I don't know why.

Charles, The nice thing about reading older poetry is that it's almost all in the public domain, so we can share it here.

Lana, "A Druid among poets" -- I'd love to hear more of that thought.

EOH, I do have my thoughts, and I haven't researched it yet, but I know I can probably find dozens of interpretations. Billy mentioned the tie in to Christianity, which of course the title and the reference to Bethlehem suggest. I feel an odd sense of relevance between it and the sense I have that we're in a time of incredible zealotry. I thought you were from South Africa and Coetzee does seem to have lived outside the continent for quite a long time. "Disgrace" was quite incredible and yes -- bleak, and since it was set during a period after Apartheid ended, it presented a political climate that I'd never considered. As Americans, we're quite aware of global events for short bursts, but we have a limited attention span. I had similar thoughts about South Africa while I was reading "Disgrace" to those I've had about the years of chaos in Europe and Eastern Europe after the end of WWII. I was completely oblivious and didn't give any serious thought to either, but once I did, I wanted to know more.

Steve, I'm learning that many of these poets almost recreate poems that they've admired, or they often write poems that become homages to other poems and poets.

Shauna, The last line and several throughout actually. "the center cannot hold" -- has always intrigued me because I never knew where it came from or what it meant.

Ello, You have a great weekend too.

Sphinx Ink, I'm finding the same phenomenon with so many poems I've discovered. It's kind of cool to think that as I read more of them, I'll actually catch some of the references in other fiction that I've probably missed before.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.


Virginia Woolf