a rebus by KATE LIEU on the famous poem by W.B. Yeats
slightly adapted from the website of Fu-Jen University, Taiwan.






The        -d,    
The      drowned; 
  lack all      the worst 
Are full   
  some      at   
The    !  Hardly are those     
When a vast      of   
  my    ;    in    of   
  with        the    of   
A gaze blank    pitiless as   
    its    thighs,     
    of the indignant   
The    drops    but      know 
Were vexed to  
by a 
come round at last, 
to be born? 



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by W.B. 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 ?



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One of the most powerful, condensed and quoted poems in the English language, this dropped into my mind like a bomb when I first read it.

The word "mere" is important. Instead of the Second Coming being full of Glory Hallelujah and great rejoicing, it will just diffuse or collapse into anarchy, like any other revolution...and like the legendary First Coming which resulted in all the life-denying horrors of Christianity and European civilisation.

"The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity".

certainly refers to a long series of events which led to the Anglo-Irish war of independence and to the Irish Civil War which followed. The First World War (which ended just before the poem was written) and the Easter Rising are also lurking in the background, while the lines could also presage reaction to the rise of Fascism (in the year after the poem was written) and Nazism. The ceremony of innocence could be Christian baptism, drowned in the blood that Christianity has spilled in nearly 2,000 years all over the globe. (Was Yeats aware of priestly priestly pædophilia ?)

Yeats has a very global view of history. He writes not so much from the point of view of the Falcon who cannot see the Falconer, as from a satellite way above the falcon which observes the whole historical and physical context. Thus he should be read together with his equally-great opposite, Rilke.

The Sphinx is a complex, ancient, shapeshifting image: a guardian of wisdom, a guardian of the dead, and a guardian of the Egyptian city of Thebes who allowed to pass only those who answered a riddle. In a female form it is important in Ægean iconography (and an essential part of the Œdipus legend) - and Yeats writes two great poems about there is a wide iconographical context. Statues of sphinxes occur in SE Asian art, and more recently in Europe, often in front of palaces and châteaux. "In the desert sand" makes us think also of Shelley's Ozymandias.

And so on...

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BYZANTIUM by W.B. Yeats >


CYNARA by Ernest Dowson >


SNAKE by D.H. Lawrence >


awaiting the barbarians by Konstantin Kavafy >


BEPPO by Lord Byron >



Yeats' paraphrase and a modern translation (with original text)
of Pierre de Ronsard's incomparable sonnet

"Quand vous serez bien vieille..."


translations of poems by Arthur Rimbaud >