The Rough Beast at Your Ballot Box

W.B. Yeats wrote his often-quoted poem The Second Coming in 1919, in the wake of the devastation of WWI and that war’s chaotic aftermath that foretold the inevitability of WWII.

The poem is short, free verse with iambic pentameter, and somewhat to the point – “somewhat,” since, like all good art, The Second Coming does not spell out, but only hints. Here is the 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: 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?

Battle of SommeClick here for a link to a beautiful audio version.

The images on the audio/visual Youtube post are from the World War II Battle of Somme — 141 days July 1 to November 18, 1916, of trench warfare on the Western Front, with a million men wounded or killed by its end.  The war did not end until 1918.

Why is the Just Vote No Blog Recommending Yeats Poem?

So, why would the Just Vote No Blog recommend The Second Coming? The poem makes for beautiful reading or listening, and it raises a favorite question of the Just Vote No Blog: are the forces of destruction and chaos inevitable reality or the result of bad ideas?

The literati in their analysis of The Second Coming often wax eloquent about Yeats’ reference to “the widening gyre” as testimony of his view of humanity and history as cyclical in the Biblical or mystic sense – birth, death and rebirth. Indeed the history of nations bears out such trajectory, with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire standing as prime example.

But here is what the Just Vote No Blog prefers to offer as testimony instead:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

When a politician says that there ought to be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, he or she makes sure passion and intensity accompanies the message, which “the worst” immediately take up with equal verve and soon turn the message into reality. While “the best” often remain cynically aloof, lacking in conviction.

By the way, defining the difference between “the worst” and “the best” is up to you.  Maybe, though, you could look at results, or promises vs. reality.

The Rough Beast

Yeats ends The Second Coming with possibly the most utilized line in modern western literature:

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

The Biblical second comer is no sloucher,

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Matthew 24:27 

The vision Yates creates is of someone moving patiently but relentlessly towards a goal. What if we chose to take that beast as the embodiment of bad ideas, the type of bad ideas we vote for at the polls, or bad ideas proselytized by politicians? What if we just say no? Would we stop the beast?

Obviously, a website titled the Just Vote No Blog would have to say “yes.”