“The Second Coming,” poem by W. B. Yeats, http://www.poetryfoundation.org.
Yeats, like Shelley in “Ozymandias,” associates folly and tyranny and self-aggrandizement with the desert lands. That happens to be where the trio of stern monotheisms were “revealed”: I’m the Only One, etc. Joan Didion borrowed a phrase from the poem for the
title of her book of essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” In Yeats’s poem, the monster traversing the desert sands “moves its slow thighs.” That understated way of describing its locomotion is packed with power. It conveys spooky massiveness along with portent and menace. Everything in this short poem vibrates with resonance for me. I’ve carried it in my head effortlessly for years. (I have to periodically refresh others I’ve memorized by reciting them over the kitchen sink!) Yeats ends with a query similar to that of Dorothy Parker, who is said to have asked regularly, “What fresh Hell is this?” Also, the poem reminds me of Ezra Pound’s comment: “Literature is news that stays news.”
(Copyright 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)