Thursday, May 6, 2010

OPINION: Irish Poet May Have Been Right On

Can We Talk?
By Jack Fairweather

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” Those words conclude a poem written in 1919 by Irish poet and essayist William Butler Yeats.
In that same work, which has been interpreted and re-interpreted many times through the years since it’s publication in 1921, Yeats also wrote, “things fall apart, the center cannot hold”.
Many interpreters thought Yeats was concerned with the manner in which modern technology would change the world, for better and worse; war, anarchy vs. more things available to more people. “The ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”, he wrote.
Yeats was not, and never claimed to be a prophet but, in a way, he was . This poem is titled, “the Second Coming”. He never said, in so many words, the Second Coming of what. You can decide for yourself, it is widely available.
World wars, a great nation that has set itself the task of being the world’s policeman constantly at war since it gained independence, modern scientific and technological breakthroughs that are all but unbelievable that serve only to enrich the powerful and enslave, physically and economically, more and more of the worlds powerless, giant banks and corporations stealing from the people at will and then gazing blankly at the few in the center, ie: Goldman-Sachs representatives before Congress, who object. Like, “You don’t understand, Senator, why I/we deserve the very best while they have plenty of the left-overs.”
It is not known what Yeats had in mind when he wrote of the rough beast, arising in the desert after centuries of sleep, but it has been slouching implacably forward for a long, long time, dragging atrocities and the murder of innocents/innocence with it.
In country after country, those innocents speak out against injustice and are tortured and killed.
Usually, in March (I’m late this year) I write of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who spoke out forcefully against the government forces, backed by the U.S., who were killing thousands in that country. Daily he called upon the military, and the rebels seeking more freedom and food for the people, to lay down their arms.
He was assassinated, shot, March 24, 1980 as he completed Mass. No one has ever been charged with his murder, although the Salvadoran and American governments are in possession of evidence pointing to U.S. trained members of the Salvadoran military. The murder of Archbishop Romero was one of the most blatant of the crimes committed by men who have been trained by the world’s policeman. Another was the slaughter of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, in 1989. Members of the Atlcatl Battalion, trained by the U.S., admitted their part in the slayings.
The Salvadoran atrocities are just a miniscule drop in the flood of what Yeats called “the blood dimmed tide loosed…” on the world… innocence is drowned.
And so it goes.
Yeats wrote, “A vast image out of Spiritus Mundi (world conciousness) troubles my sight; somewhere in the 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……” It is slouching toward Bethlehem. Was “Bethlehem” the poet’s way of referring to the rest of the world?
We don’t know, of course. But history has shown us a “rough beast” indeed.

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