Jun. 13, 2002

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats

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Poem: "The Second Coming," by William Butler Yeats.

The Second Coming

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 toward Bethlehem to be born?

It's the birthday of poet and critic Mark Van Doren, born in Hope, Illinois (1894). At Columbia University he was a popular professor of literature who counted among his students John Berryman, Louis Simpson, Lionel Trilling, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. His Collected Poems (1940) won the Pulitzer Prize. He said: "A good poem is the shortest distance between you and the subject. And the subject is something that has struck you very deeply just because it's there, and because it's beautiful and important."

It's the birthday of mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, born in Oxford, England (1893). In 1915, she was one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford University. Her degree was in medieval literature, and in the last decade of her life she returned to medieval scholarship as a translator of Dante and The Song of Roland. But in her prime she was known as the creator of one of the greatest of all fictional British detectives, the aristocratic Lord Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter Wimsey first appeared in the novel Whose Body? (1923). It was followed by Clouds of Witness (1926), Strong Poison (1930), The Nine Tailors (1933), and Gaudy Night (1935). There were eleven novels in all, the last one being Busman's Honeymoon, in 1937. After that, she turned to writing religious plays and translating medieval poetry. She said: "I am a scholar gone wrong."

It's the birthday of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, born in Dublin, Ireland (1865). While he was in his twenties, he joined the Irish nationalist cause, driven by his unrequited love for the beautiful actress Maud Gonne, who was an ardent Irish nationalist. He eventually dropped out of political life to give his full attention to literature. Together with Lady Augusta Gregory, he helped establish the Irish Literary Theater, which they renamed the Abbey Theater in 1904. The Abbey became, and still remains, the preeminent Irish theater. He not only directed the theater, he also contributed plays to its repertory, and nurtured the works of other young playwrights, including John Millington Synge. But it's as a poet that Yeats achieved his lasting fame. His collections of poetry include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1929). In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Many of his early poems were inspired by his love for Maud Gonne.

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