I had a fascinating exchange of emails with a gifted poet recently about a poem he had written entitled “Circles.”Initially, I had mis-read the poem, missed his intent and allusions (happens to all of us on off days ;). And I am not authorized to quote from it it, let alone print it in its entirety here, but the exchange got me thinking about metaphors and images and (yes) symbols in Poetry.
Yeats and his winding gyres, an image/symbol which so obsessed him and which formed the driving engine of some of his most provocative poems, immediately came to mind.
No, not exactly circles per se for there are process and progression in a gyre as Yeats conceived them.
Here is a clever by half explanation of what he was up to:
|“All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one.” — T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding|
THE SECOND COMING
William Butler Yeats 1865-1939
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?
Personally this kind of grand conception of history and our lives fails to move me or convince me one way or another.
For me, life, mine and LIFE, are highly circumstantial, unpredictable and too complicated and surprising to reduce to such neat schemes.
True, on many days I seem to be moving in, locked inside of, circles, yet something always happens eventually–a poke in the eye, a surprising new thing, an airtight refutation of a “truth” I had relied upon all of my life, to keep me wide eyed, hopefully nimble and light on my feet.
Yeats’ gyres and his schematic are more complex than I have feebly described here, and if you are interested in pursuing this–or circles and circling–you will find many resources online and in print, enough to keep you busy and absorbed for the rest of your life.
The “Rough Beast,” though? “The Second Coming?” Something prophetic about all that given this year’s news, this WEEK’S news, wouldn’t you say? Creepy.