The Second Coming?

Wait Just a Second

This week the events in Minneapolis and around the United States hit me like a tidal wave. I felt myself being swept away.  I started grasping for anything buoyant that I could find to keep me afloat.  For some reason the 1919 poem, “The Second Coming”, by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats floated in front of me.  I thought, surely this poem, written right after the First World War and the rise of violence in Yeats’s Irish homeland, would offer some solace.

I eagerly looked up the poem and read it, probably for the first time since my college days, and was profoundly disappointed. I had forgotten what the poem was really about. In the place of hope, there was an apocalypse unfolding. I was filled with an even greater sense of dread as I read Yeats’s anguish in his images of:

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.

Every day this week I read reports of violence and images of looting and police brutality. America was on fire again. Where was all this going to lead?  Our President was threatening to unleash the might of our own military against our citizens. In doing so, he showed himself ignorant of history, too eager to appear tough, not knowing that such a move only increases resistance, not lessens it.  History would have given him ample proof:  ask the Czar of Russia, the British in Ireland, the Dutch in Indonesia, the French in Indochina. They set their armies against people seeking redress from oppression. Those countries ultimately lost territory, lives, fortunes and the moral authority to maintain their influence in the world.

I was shaken once again by witnessing my beloved United States be anything but united.  I started to write an essay which, instead of lifting me out of despair, pulled me deeper into it.

And what beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born

Then Wednesday became the day of deliverance. That morning, my son alerted me to two webcasts, one hosted by President Barrack Obama  titled, “Re-imagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence”. The other was presented by The Foreign Press Association of New York, “Racism and Policing in America”. Both webcasts appeared to be offering real and useful information in the place of constant incendiary reporting and White House belligerence.

I wasn’t disappointed. One voice after another spoke of what was being done to address the issues of racism and violence.  One voice after another spoke of efforts people of courage and conviction were making to ensure that justice is for all.  It was hopeful. It was positive and intelligent.

President Obama, in his closing remarks, reminded everyone of the phrase Martin Luther King often said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” All this gives me hope. It fills me with the belief that no matter how dark things may seem, whether it is from a pandemic or demonstrations in our streets, we will persevere as long as men and women of good will are willing to speak truth to power.

I was also encouraged, and filled with hope by the statements that three of America’s esteemed retired military leaders made this week opposing the use of military force to stop people from exercising their constitutional right to seek redress for their grievances. I will not be surprised if more of our mature and intelligent leaders speak out in the coming weeks and months.

My hope has been restored, for now. There will be up’s and down’s.  Hope isn’t some drug that keeps me on a high, immune to the struggles in and around me. But at this moment, I have no doubt that Americans will find a way to meet our current challenges.  Earlier this week I only saw a path strewn with multiple obstacles that blocked hope.

Today, I have hope, I don’t slouch, I walk upright.

Dear readers, how are you finding hope?  How are you keeping your hope alive?  I also turn to my faith in a Higher Power, a power that doesn’t solve our problems for us but gives us the intelligence and ability to resolutely face life’s challenges. I seek insight from the leaders among us who are focused on bringing us together as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

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Be safe. Be well. Speak up. Love the ones you are with. There is much that can be accomplished even during a pandemic and civil strife.

I have included the entire text of “The Second Coming”. It was written in 1919 in the aftermath of  the First World War and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence that followed the Easter Rising.
The poem is also connected to the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. In the weeks preceding Yeats writing this poem, his pregnant wife Georgie Hyde-Lees caught the virus and was close to death. The highest death rates of the pandemic were among pregnant women.  His wife did survive. It was during her convalescence he wrote this poem.

The Second Coming
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: somewhere in 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, while all about it
Reel 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?
W.B. Yeats, 1865-1939
This poem is in the public domain.