Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Second Coming (pace William Butler Yates)

What is the poem you wish you had written? (What do you mean you've never thought about it? What are you doing here?? This blog is not for you, weirdo. The Top Gear Fans Facebook page is over there.)

As for the rest of you lot - let me tell you mine.

When I was young and unrequited love (they hadn't invented any other type yet) occupied 97pc of my thoughts , I would have said the stanzas about Paolo and Francesca, the romantically doomed lovers in the 5th canto of Dante's Inferno. It's soooo much better sounding in Italian:

"Amor che al cuor gentil ratto s'apprende,
prese costui della bella persona che mi fu tolta,
e il modo ancor m'offende.
Amor che a nullo amato amar perdona,
presemi del costui piacer si forte,
che come vedi ancor non m'abbandona...."

Bear in mind they were cast in hell for having kissed - without tongues or anything - and that seemed mild compared to what your average Catholic priest promised in confession if the matter of sex was ever raised (normally by him).

These days, with bad news, anxiety and dark premonitions dominating 97pc of my thoughts I find the first eight lines of Yates's The Second Coming beautifully prescient of whatever new horror happens to be obsessing me at the time. Damn, how I wish I had written that!

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
the falcon cannot hear the falconer"

A versatile verse, if you'll pardon the alliteration, alluding to anything from rampaging youths to out of control mice infestations.

"Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.."

Where to even begin here??? It's, as they say, pure poetry, but so practical too. All office politics is in this sentence (particularly my office's politics), as well as generic inner city riots, marital squabbles, family feuds, the messy demise of geriatric relatives, one's own middle-aged aches and pains suddenly taking on epic dimensions: you name it, this verse caters to it all.

"Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere,
the ceremony of innocence is drowned."

Ok, this starts as ANY front page of the FT these days, then it transitions into tabloid-land and ends on notes of reality TV. Incredibly succinctly, too.
Finally, the masterstroke:

"The best lack of conviction while the worst
are full of passionate intensity."

From the UK veto to the ineptitude of opposition governments in any of the main democracies, from the warnings of recent history to the behaviour of your nearest and dearest (not to mention colleagues), all human life is here.

So what is the poem you wish you had written? Your turn now.

(Or we could forget all about it, save some energy and go back to sobbing under the duvet.)


  1. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh.
    In den Wipfeln spuerest du kaum einen Hauch.
    Die Voegelein schweigen im Walde.
    Warte nur, balde ruhest du auch.

    Goethe: Wanderers Nachtlied.

  2. Thanks Charlian - I'm having it translated. I hope it'
    s not one of those rude Goethe poems....