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.
Who are “the best” but the boni of our day—the politicians like their forebears, ancient cynical senators jockeying for power, for the role of princeps. What conviction do they display, with their records of social and political policies changing with the wind of opinion? The courage of their conviction goes only so deep as their demagoguery finds necessary—in another day, a week, perhaps a month—never so long as a year!—all is changed. Is is not that “Power corrupts” or even “Power corrupts the corruptible” but that “Power is corruption.”
Who are “the worst . . . full of passionate intensity,” but the terrorists of these days and their enablers? Such coarse certitude, drawing lines that none may cross but themselves, they with an adolescent fixation on an imagined utopia of fairness—one founded on their own terms, and thus eminently “fair” to themselves!—a utopia as imaginary as every other ever imagined by minds both greater and lesser.
And yet Yeats wrote this so long ago, in 1921 or before, with very different referents in mind. Even so, do we not think, all of us, but for some very brief interludes when all is well with us, that in our generations each one of them is the time when some “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”? Is not every generation prone to see the coming of the man of sin, the lawless one, the antichrist, the beast, the great Satan, Beliar—and the end of the world is at hand?
Even so: Come, our Lord. Come.
From my journal. On the night of 1 February 2008, reflecting on Fr Andrew Louth’s quotation of Yeats (at the top of the post) in his Discerning the Mystery, p. 1