A poem for the second day of Advent: The Second Coming

In Advent I’m borrowing from poets who speak to me about advent themes. Today I’m still hanging out in this Mark text that lots of churches all over the world read last week, (Mark 13:24=37) and I am reminded of this poem by William Butler Yeats:


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?

Yeats wrote this poem in the wake of World War I; and it appears that he has done what people do—he looked at all the chaos and destruction around him, and tried to make sense of it by tapping into the ancient stories. The gospels also came out of a time of war, when everything was chaotic. I think this is why the sacred texts hold such power;
they speak to real human condition across time.

But Yeats might find comfort in that text we had to read on Sunday, from Mark 13:24-“But in those days, after that suffering…” then he talks about things that look like the end of the world. But just as things look like hell (whatever shape that might take for you) Jesus speaks about signs of summer, if you’re paying attention: From the fig tree, learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves, you know the summer is near.

Summer doesn’t equate to me with a rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem, as Yeats wonders about in his last lines. But still I love his poem for how it names the reality we sometimes live in. Things do fall apart. It feels as if the center cannot hold. The best lack all conviction, while the weirdest people are intense and demand lots of attention. (Dare I say sometimes seminary felt like that?) And so Yeats imagines that Jesus might come out of the desert again, in attack pose for those of us lulled to sleep by the comfort of the last coming (rocking cradle).

Perhaps. Time will perhaps tell. I just wonder this: If Christ came once to judge the world, and judged with grace and mercy, why do people think that if Christ comes again in a momentous second-coming that there will be condemnation?

I don’t claim special knowledge about these things, but I believe Christ is always coming into the world. Look for the tender branches and leaves.