Liam Kruger looks on WB Yeats’ occult philosophy and visions of the future. What can interlocking spirals, automatic writing and rough, slouching beasts tell us to expect from 2012?
‘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.’
extract, ‘The Second Coming’ January 1919
As apocalypses go, Yeats’ is a little anticlimactic. All the really good religions manage to end the world with frost and fire, giant monsters devouring the sun and mankind being judged, one way or the other; all we get from Yeats is the familiar rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem, and the observation that the good don’t do enough. The poem seems to voice nothing quite so much as profound disappointment at some opportunity lost – an Armageddon that could’ve been really good, if we’d just managed to pull it off.
Yeats’ most recent disappointment at the time of writing had been the failure of what had been to him the possibility of an Irish independence from English rule; at the same time, the counter-revolutionaries in Russia with whom Yeats sympathised politically seemed well and truly done for, and the rest of continental Europe, even distant as it was from Yeats’ political theatre in Ireland, hardly offered much about which to be optimistic.