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Ten Poems You Must Know (3) 28 January 2009

Posted by ABD in ABD, Arts, Poetry, Politics, Reviews.

This is the third post of a ten-part series. The first two introduced Langston Hughes’ Harlem and Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est.

One of Yeats’ poems was briefly mentioned in my previous post in this series, but the one you should really know is

William Butler Yeats

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 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?

Written in 1919 and published in Rich with religious, historical and literary allusions, the multiple possibilities generated by the poem all add to the air of uncertainty.

Since its publication, this poem has become something of a cultural phenomenon. Perhaps no other poem has been alluded to by so many others (Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the most prominent example, but I found a score of others).



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