Image: from “The Disasters of War” by Francisco Goya, series of prints, 1810 -1820. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
“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.”
From “The Second Coming” by William B Yeats
No, that wasn’t written yesterday, but in 1921 when Ireland was in the throes of a vicious Civil War.
Yeats stayed a neutral observer through all the upheavals of Irish history during his lifetime, and some of his best poetry reflects this.
One of my great loves is poetry, and I hope to start a weekly post on favourite poets, combined with art images.
I am always struck by the French proverb “Plus ça change, plus chest la même chose”, the translation being “The more things change, the more they stay the same”
With the world sometimes seeming to be entering a new Dark Age, with senseless atrocities everywhere snuffing out innocent lives, one can easily be tempted to despair.
It’s worth remembering though, that there have been dark times before, and that always through the dark times love has continued to exist, and eventually to prevail.
Another poet that was a great observer of the political landscape that enabled the disasters of the Spanish Civil War and then World War II to occur, was W H Auden. He lived in Germany for a few years in the early 1930s and saw a catastrophe unfolding. The following poem was written on the eve of the Second World War.
Image: “We Are Making a New World”, by Paul Nash, 1918. (Imperial War Museum, London)
“I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty Second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;”
from “September 1, 1939” by W. H. Auden
The poem catalogues the disasters of the past, and prophesises dark times ahead, but it ends with a very simple message:
“We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just”
Exchange their messages.
Seamus Heaney, another great Irish poet was right on the money when he commented:
“I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world.”
Any feedback would be appreciated. Would you like to see more poetry posts? Any favourite poets?