I love reading. I love books. My parents indulged my passion was I was growing up. When I was 14, my love affair with Yeats started. The cause was Liam Clancy. He recited excerpts of Yeats’ The Second Coming in concert. With an adolescent sense of drama I embraced it. My parents gave me this collection of Yeats for my 14th birthday.
I treasure it. Tonight I opened the book again looking for the poem–though I can recite it from memory. I felt compelled, for the first time in years, to lay eyes on it.
Yeats wrote in in 1919 at the end of the bloodiest of conflicts. Read against the history of 1920-1939 it seems prophetic, a warning. Yeats died in January, 1939 before the full horror of his vision visited itself upon the world, but he traced its outline.
Tonight I opened it the book again, looking for The Second Coming.
I’ve thought of the poem a few times over the years. Always in a fleeting way. The phrase “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of a passionate intensity.” was always there, a handy quote when the situation seemed to warrant it.
But nothing in my life has really warranted it’s deployment –until now. It’s not a poem about the past any longer. It’s about the here and now. And what rough beast, indeed, is slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.