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« Love and Morality | Main | Spinning The City »
Thursday
Dec022010

Spinning Yeats

In many ways, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN is an answer, or perhaps a counterbalance, to William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming," one of the seminal poems in English in the twentieth century. Bits and pieces of "The Second Coming" get referenced in several places in McCann's novel.

Here's Yeats' poem in full:

    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?

I'd like to start our discussion here, with Yeats' poem of terror and fear, the nightmare of some "rough beast . . . slouch[ing] towards Bethlehem," written at the end of World War I and as the Irish were undergoing horrible, national repressions.

If you look on page 325 of McCann's novel, you'll see the resounding answer to Yeats at the end of the third paragraph: "Things don't fall apart."

Or to put it another way, to quote the novel again: "The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough" (page 349).

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