Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Things fall apart...the centre cannot hold...."

As often happens to me,  I was reading a novel ("The Owl and Moon Cafe" by the amazingly talented Jo-Ann Mapson) that mentions this line from a poem. . . "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold..." which lead me to find the poem from which it was quoted.  I've been fascinated by spirals and fractals in nature for years and this poem spiraled itself right into my blog.  I'm not sure I fully understand it (even after reading the commentary from Sparknotes and a few other sites), but I love the language and the overall feeling of the poem.  I firmly believe we don't have to understand another person's poetry to appreciate and enjoy it.   The beauty of poetry is that it can mean different things to each person who reads it. 

I haven't read much Yeats, but I try to be open to the classics.  I love mythology and he draws heavily from it.  Check out this awesome quote from his story, "The Celtic Twilight" written in 1893:

"Paddy Flynn is dead;....He was a great teller of tales, and unlike our common romancers, knew how to empty heaven, hell, and purgatory, faeryland and earth, to people his stories. He did not live in a shrunken world, but knew of no less ample circumstance than did Homer himself. Perhaps the Gaelic people shall by his like bring back again the ancient simplicity and amplitude of imagination.....Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.—ch. 1, “A Teller of Tales"

Kind of makes you feel your own mortality, no?

Blessings & Happy Reading,


By 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 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?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Commentary on this poem from:

"Because of its stunning, violent imagery and terrifying ritualistic language, “The Second Coming” is one of Yeats’s most famous and most anthologized poems; it is also one of the most thematically obscure and difficult to understand. (It is safe to say that very few people who love this poem could paraphrase its meaning to satisfaction.) Structurally, the poem is quite simple—the first stanza describes the conditions present in the world (things falling apart, anarchy, etc.), and the second surmises from those conditions that a monstrous Second Coming is about to take place, not of the Jesus we first knew, but of a new messiah, a “rough beast,” the slouching sphinx rousing itself in the desert and lumbering toward Bethlehem. This brief exposition, though intriguingly blasphemous, is not terribly complicated; but the question of what it should signify to a reader is another story entirely.

Yeats spent years crafting an elaborate, mystical theory of the universe that he described in his book A Vision. This theory issued in part from Yeats’s lifelong fascination with the occult and mystical, and in part from the sense of responsibility Yeats felt to order his experience within a structured belief system. The system is extremely complicated and not of any lasting importance—except for the effect that it had on his poetry, which is of extraordinary lasting importance. The theory of history Yeats articulated in A Vision centers on a diagram made of two conical spirals, one inside the other, so that the widest part of one of the spirals rings around the narrowest part of the other spiral, and vice versa. Yeats believed that this image (he called the spirals “gyres”) captured the contrary motions inherent within the historical process, and he divided each gyre into specific regions that represented particular kinds of historical periods (and could also represent the psychological phases of an individual’s development)...."


Have you read much of Yeats' work and, if so, what are some of your favorite poems of his?


Terresa said...

This one, this one, this one. I stewed over, savoring it while a college student, and most recently, today in your post. There is so much in it, isn't there?

Thanks for the literary treat today, my cup fills on every visit. :)

Jaliya said...

I know this poem well ... and some time ago, I realized something ... I wrote it as an understanding that the horrific entropy Yeats writes of is not always inevitable; I found myself doing an intuitive poetic about-face with the line, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" ...

"Things fall together; the centre does hold ..."

Funny I should say this today, just over a month after my marriage imploded. Things *have* fallen apart and this relational centre no longer holds.

"... everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned ..."

*Killer* phrase. That's exactly what divorce does ... it drowns the ceremony of being wedded with another ...

One aspect of *The Second Coming* that I have found paradoxically heartening, though, is that I recognize the extreme -- the "mere anarchy" -- of the blood-dimmed tide ... and in so doing, I also see its opposite -- the ceremony of innocence safely buoyed and being conducted ... a passionate intensity that fills the best ... a falcon who *can* hear the falconer ... mere harmony ...

It's amazing to encounter a long-loved poem (and yes, I do love this poem ... love it with a harrowing reverence) and to see it anew.

Thank you, Marion ... and your blog is one of the loveliest that I know of. It just *clicks*!


quid said...

I have not read Yeats. After your interesting post, I'm certainly tempted. I love the line....

"He did not live in a shrunken world"....

These days, that's kind of what it feels like; that I'm living in a shrunken world. Sigh.


Kelly said...

I've not read much Yeats, so I can't really comment on that. What I do want to say is how much I appreciate this line from your post:

"I firmly believe we don't have to understand another person's poetry to appreciate and enjoy it. The beauty of poetry is that it can mean different things to each person who reads it."

Probably one of the reasons I never enjoyed poetry in school is because there was always some teacher trying to make us "understand" what the poet was really saying. So often I read poetry just for the sheer beauty of the face value. Other times it means something to me that I know wasn't intended by the author. Other times I actually "get" it.

I'm so glad thanks to you and a few others I've learned to love and appreciate poetry in a different way. Thanks!

Jen said...

I'd say the beast symbolized the nations ganging up on Israel, but didn't he write this before Israel even existed?

Yes, poems mean something different to everyone, and even change in meaning as we move to different phases in our lives.

Marion said...

I appreciate all of your comments. I can see this poem much clearly now through your eyes. Thank you, really. Blessings!!

Jalila, your word 'entropy' jumped out at me because I'd recent read a book about entropy. I appreciate the time you took for your thoughtful comment. It illuminates the poem for me just a little more. Thank you, and I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. Blessings!

Phoenix said...

I first read this poem in my AP English class in high school and quickly became obsessed. I too always saw it less as an apocalyptic second coming of a beast and more as the general decay and spiral towards chaos that is the human condition. It's funny that Jaliya mentioned entropy because entropy (all things moving towards chaos) is one of my favorite words - I even wrote a poem called Entropy that was performed in a show at my college.

I suppose since high school I've become more of an optimist because when I discovered the word I have tattooed on my lower back - Entheos- it was described as the opposite of entropy. Instead of everything moving towards chaos, entheos is everything moving towards God.

I guess there's a reason why, in the end, I chose entheos over entropy. :)

Great poem... and a great quote from Yeats' "Celtic Twilight."

Marion said...

That's interesting, Phoenix, about the words entropy vs. entheos. My mind is expanding, if not the universe. LOL! I, too, prefer entheos, a beautiful, enlightening word. Thank you so much for sharing it. Love & Blessings!!

Jaliya said...

... and "entheos" is related to enthusiasm ...