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A Poem for the 2016 Election
By MARTIN E. MARTY   November 14, 2016
Photo credit: Tatiana Gettelman/Flickr via Compfight (cc)
For the very first time, our usually prosaic Sightings column gives space this week to a poem, one rich in metaphor. It was written in 1919, but is seen as newly relevant.
 
*     *     *

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?

—W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Resources

- Doggett, Rob. Deep-Rooted Things: Empire and Nation in the Poetry and Drama of William Butler Yeats. University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.

- Foster, R. F. W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. 1: The Apprentice Mage. Oxford University Press, 1997.

- —. W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. 2: The Arch-Poet. Oxford University Press, 2003.

- Howes, Marjorie. Yeats's Nations: Gender, Class and Irishness. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

- Owen, Alex. The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern. University of Chicago Press, 2004.

- Smith, Stan. The Origins of Modernism: Eliot, Pound, Yeats and the Rhetorics of Renewal. Harvester, 1994.

- Yeats, W. B. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1: The Poems. Ed. Richard J. Finneran. Scribner, 1997.
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Sightings is edited by Brett Colasacco, a PhD candidate in Religion, Literature, and Visual Culture at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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