Note: I revised and corrected (so many embarrassing mistakes!) this post from 2008 a bit and I'm republishing it for National Poetry Month.
|sketch by John Singer Sargent|
In this song, Mitchell takes the classic Yeats poem The Second Coming, slightly alters the words and writes a musical composition to it. My only complaint about Joni's version is that although she stayed fairly true to the original, she should have left it entirely as it was written. Others believe she shouldn't have touched it all. I'll let you decide.
(On a side note: Am I the only poetry nerd who thinks that Yeats was hot? ;-)
Slouching Toward Bethlehem from the CD Night Ride Home, 1991
based on the poem by W.B. 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 Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.
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
Reel 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?
William Butler Yeats
*gyre -Yeats called each cycle of history a "gyre"--literally a circular or spiral turn. (He pronounced it with a hard "g.") He had a complicated system detailed in his book A Vision that proposed history as a series of 2,000 year eras, each of which begins and ends with some apocalyptic event in which the divine (in a Christian or some other form) inserts itself into human history resulting in cataclysmic historical and mythological consequences.