Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
It was a troubling poem for a troubled time (1919):
The Second Coming
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: 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?
Do Yeats’ foreboding verses seem familiar in this troubled time, too?
Regarding the poem’s religious allusions, prophecy scholars are doubling down, just now, on so-called “end times” themes as if the “twenty centuries” cited might also indicate our own spiritual era coming to a close.
And regarding the slow “slouch” of socialism that had begun tearing apart Europe in Yeats’ day and that inspired the poem, consider how a twenty-first century American version of that same “rough beast” of socialism (that first reared its ugly head in the 19th century over here) is “moving its slow thighs” as close as it has ever been to another birthplace, another kind of Bethlehem: Washington D.C.
See what I mean?
Indeed, many modern observers and historians argue that the American dream may be turning, now, into the latter stages of its own kind of “vexed…nightmare,” as Yeats put it, if allowed to be destroyed by Marxist revolutionaries on both inner city streets and in certain corners of Congress where comrades, whether clad in black bloc or suits and dresses, in each their own manner have greatly contributed to “things falling apart” while “anarchy (has been) loosed.”
On Universal and Eternal Themes
Good poetry addresses universal themes. “The Second Coming,” although written one hundred years ago, addresses similar topics today, where, once again, themes of freedom versus totalitarianism and good versus evil are playing out.
This time, in our nation.
Let’s hope and pray we can slow, if not stop, the beast.
We will know when the votes are finally counted and as the “new normal” we keep hearing about and experiencing on several levels continues, having already cast its ominous hue.
In the meantime, to help quell the chaos, I offer the following antidotes and encouragement.
Antidote to Chaos #1, Jordan Peterson
Psychologist and author Jordan Peterson offers an antidote to multi-faceted chaos whether internal, external, or a combination of both, a cure that saved his nervous system, mind–and spirit–during his harrowing experience dealing with withdrawal from an addiction to benzodiazepine, medication he had taken to counteract severe anxiety attacks.
He offers some details on the experience in a recent article excerpted below while sharing notes on his antidote that has universal application in an anxiety-filled, chaotic world, whether the strife is due to internal or external factors, personal or societal. He cites also the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who wrote of survival in the Soviet gulags:
So what was the reason [for suffering]? What kind of life purpose is strong enough to withstand the overwhelming degree of suffering that can befall us in times of crisis and chaos? What “deeper meaning” will sustain the human spirit through a long, grinding sojourn in the underworld: through a bout of severe illness or a stint in a gulag?
For Peterson and Solzhenitsyn [writes the article’s author], the answer is responsibility.
Responsibility for his family, said Peterson, helped him withstand and finally overcome his physical trial, and, I sense, a greater responsibility to his “extended family,” too, i.e., those he can reach through teaching and writing.
But there is another antidote, this one to quell not just the chaos in the flesh and in the land (a scorching, pitiless, deserted place when all is said and done) but an eternal antidote of light, life, and love.
Antidote to Chaos #2, Jesus Christ
In comparisom with Peterson’s solution, the second cure for chaos also deals with both external and internal causes and bearing responsibility for others.
In comparison with Yeats’ poem, “it” also reaches back twenty centuries and emanates from Bethlehem but this time, the literal city, and this time a cradle in a manger not prompting vexing nightmares but promising the long-prophesied light now come into the world.
In contrast to Peterson’s solution, however, this antidote is embodied in a Person, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Who came “in the fullness of time” not–and in contrast to Yeat’s metaphor–a beast to enslave but a redeemer to free.
And the responsibility taken on by Jesus was to His Father.
A responsibility that was really ours.
As the old hymn says, “He paid a debt He did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”
He did this, of course, on the cross.
As explained in John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus Christ, Who, as that eternal antidote and for the noblest of all causes, suffered, too, but for us that we might have hope that transcends nations, ideologies, politics–and chaos, both without and within.
Jesus Christ, Who suffered to procure peace that lasts, no matter what slouches near, there or here, no matter how deeply we might grieve, on this mortal plain, over the loss of that in which we placed our hopes, our blood, and our treasure.
Because there is more.
Much, much more.
Indeed, as the scripture reveals,
“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him– (1 Corinthians 2:9)
So look upward, brothers and sisters, though it be through that dim glass and though for a season we may also mourn.
For as in every era, every “time” whether it be of war or peace, mourning or celebration, planting or uprooting; a time to be born or a time to die, we have yet more opportunities to reach out, to minister, to preach, teach, heal, guide, comfort, and encourage–ministering not only to others but also to ourselves.
For that ‘”last Gentile,” he or she who rounds out the “full number” of them, is yet to board the ark, become born again, or enter–spiritually for now, literally, later–that place that neither moth nor rust corrupt nor any theives can break through and steal.
Perhaps it’s even someone you or I know personally.
And keep your gaze fixed because whether our trouble comes from the streets or the halls of power, after all, Jesus did warn us of the days and times to come, where those who hated Him would also hate us, those who persecuted Him would also persecute us.
For our struggle, beloved, “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). And our real enemy is brilliant and relentless.
But Jesus also said this:
Be encouraged by Him–and by each other.
I’ll do what I can, too; watch this space.
And in the meantime, no matter what darkness may come, keep your spiritual bags packed, your oil lamps filled, and get ready for a prelude, if you will, to the Second Coming, that, if a certain prophecy is imminent, could be as close as the twinkling of an eye.