Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stein, Yeats

At certain times the world's psychic vibration levels rise and, like dust on a recently activated fan, we have lines of poems detaching, floating about us, or just lying there like discarded bus transfers.

Lines from a poem I keep seeing and hearing belong to Yeats's "The Second Coming" (1919). Do you know it?

Here is the first stanza:

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. 

It is the last two lines that people keep quoting, as if in prayer. But who are the "best" and who are the "worst" of us?  Given the sources, it would seem the "best" are those who voted for Obama but who stayed home for Hillary. The worst, to use Hillary's own poorly chosen words, are her basket-fitting "deplorables."

Five years before Yeats's published his poem, Stein published Tender Buttons (1914), a book that ends with a long work called "Rooms", whose first stanza/paragraph looks like this:

Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.

Words common to both poems are "centre" and variants of "wide." The former is a point, the latter a measure. Stein eschews the centre at the start of the Great War, while Yeats despairs its loss five years later, with Germany shivering in the dock at Versailles.

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