Monday, April 25, 2011

The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats Class

Literature, in particular Shakespeare, is my passion, avocation and the focus of my academic studies. But I find that The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats is particularly relevant for this time in history (the Zeitgeist, if you will).

I can offer a great class in-person with actual students, discussions and writing assignments which can illuminate our current predicament and point the way to global solutions. Grandiose, you might say. What have you got to lose?

Some ideas and deconstruction of the poem:

Proposal: Teach a class with “The Second Coming: W.B. Yeats” as centerpiece.

Can either be “Post-WWI Poems (T.S. Eliot?) or literature in general (Woolf, Hemingway).

Or can be put in context with the cataclysmic events occurring now (the uprisings in the Middle East, the environmental oddities such as hurricanes/tornadoes in U.S., the nuclear meltdown in Japan).

Or teach it alongside John’s Book of Revelation.

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre [Entropy; things become disconnected and further apart]
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; [the natural order of man to animal is upended]
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; [That which glues us together as the global community is spinning out of control; disaster has struck]
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, [WWI was thought of as the Great War; young people eagerly embraced it and signed up in droves; they were destroyed in mind and body]
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst [those who are thoughtful enough to protest hold back while the others, “the worst”, take control of human activity; we head for the cliffs]
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 [“Soul of the World”] Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man, [the Sphinx; an Egyptian pharaoh; posing the riddle for Oedipus-complex?]
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds. [Out of the desert where the holy men/prophets came; the beast/savior is angry, without pity for human folly moving inexorably toward its purpose]

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, [Christ was the nightmare referred to to in the poem; his name means "truth" in Greek; He disturbed the slumber of mankind with harsh truths]

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? [Discuss: Who was born in Bethlehem? Fearful retribution-the cleansing; redemption?]

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