How We Live
Thinking of Yeats
By: Stephen Rifkin - Feb 18, 2015
Here’s what I think is happening. We are slipping towards a great war. The scope of the battlefield-- the Middle East, Afghanistan, Africa, and even parts of Europe— will compare to those of the last century, though forces in contention will differ, and in ways they will fight rebellious wars of colonial periods, and movements by empires against them, and on all sides they will be crusaders. War is what the coming generation will face, when our politicians feel ready to state and declare it, when we are led by the media to appropriate levels of discomfort and outrage.
The young will be indoctrinated to fight.
For aging artists, music, paintings, constructions, poems will appear as glimpses and rhythms of an earlier, nearly idyllic period, for our concerns are to rescue from oblivion a personal past, and that of the generation with which we came of age— which for us is the dwindling but still-living past itself. We will seem light-hearted and light-headed, for the propaganda machine will be incessant and irresistible, and we shall be irresponsible and irrelevant.
Meanwhile, we delight in our constructs, which go on about their lives, acquiring meaning. We work on, aging and dying, a generation in the face of a darkening dystopic world, where fanatics rant, kill and make news, and where fools report them. We remain to make testaments. We leave behind those of a between- the great wars- childhood, and our coming of age, and an adulthood that looks back as it hurries on, where and when pop, rock, jazz, black culture, noire movies, and of course, artifacts of great high culture all seemed to the point, relevant, and necessary as milk, or vodka.
Our artworks, poems, snapshots, selfies, are for a later generation, perhaps our grandchildren’s.
Last night, as I lay in bed sleepless, my head and chest full of worries, I thought of the great William Butler Yeats poem. Yeats wrote in the face of Ireland’s turmoil, and his own. NoYeats, I quote below.
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: a waste of desert sand;
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
Wind 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?