Here's the link and here's part of the first paragraph as a taster:
'How long can you keep pointing out that humanity is on course for global civilisational collapse which is always what happens when the impetus that gave rise to a new culture has dissipated and there is no creative energy left? How many times can you say that when the spiritual world is denied as it is now human beings go literally, yes, quite literally mad and start engaging in self-destructive behaviour? Their minds descend into a kind of anarchic mess, antipathy for the other increases and the most mentally perverted become the most passionate in defending and promoting their perversions.'
There is something very reminiscent to me of Yeats (1865-1939) in these words. One recalls, for instance, these famous lines from The Second Coming (1920):
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.
Yeats was one of a number of early to mid-twentieth century writers and thinkers who were fascinated by what they felt to be the imminent dissolution of our era and the emergence of a new and very different order in its wake. The French metaphysician René Guénon (1886-1951) is another name which springs to mind in this context. His cosmological oeuvre revolves around the ancient Hindu concept of succeeding ages (or Yugas in Sanskrit) - Gold to Silver to Bronze to Iron (or Dark), back to Gold again, and so on. Yeats calls them gyres, and while Guénon was certain that this current Dark Age (Kali Yuga) will soon cede place to a new Golden Age (Satya Yuga), Yeats, thanks largely to the last stanza of The Second Coming, has usually been seen as somewhat more ambivalent in his prognostications.
He was totally unambivalent, however, in his denunciations of modernity and the type of individual post-Enlightenment conditions tend to breed. 'Scorn the sort now growing up,' he wrote in his last major poem, Under Ben Bulben (1939), 'All out of shape from toe to top.' Or these lines from The Statues (1938):
We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked ...
The 'rough beast' at the end of The Second Coming, who 'slouches off to Bethlehem to be born', seems to indicate that Yeats had grave forebodings not only about the present but about the future too that he did not share Guénon's faith in an inevitably returning Golden Age. But his thoughts on the matter are in reality much more complex. I'm over-simplifying things massively in this post and the place to go for a full exposition of Yeats's cosmology is his astonishing prose work, A Vision, first published in 1925. With this in mind, I would like to end this post with all three stanzas of another late Yeats poem, The Gyres (1936-37). Here we see a bold and confident vision of the age to come and a complete disregard - an insouciance and disdain even - for the death rattle of this one. The best this world could offer, as the poet knows, belonged to former times anyway. 'A greater, a more gracious age is gone,' as he says. But 'What matter? Heave no sigh, let no tear drop.' For 'Out of cavern comes a voice, and all it knows is that one word 'Rejoice!'
I have known this poem for a long time but up until very recently I would not have said that it has particularly informed or inspired me. I came across it again by chance in early May, I think, when looking for a quote from another Yeats poem - I forget which now - to include in an email to a friend. I would never have guessed that by August The Gyres would have become the most compelling and insistent poem in my life, my 'go to poem' if you like, for this discombobulating spring and summer we are living through.
So why is this? To be honest, I think it's because the poem gives a 'two fingered salute' to the forces of disintegration and disorder which seem so dominant at the moment. Hope is too weak a word for what Yeats conveys here. There's a real strength and vitality imbued in these lines, a spiritual swagger, which has been in short supply, to be honest, too often for too long in too many mainstream churches. It isn't faith either - that's too tepid again. What we're talking about is a deep Platonic mystery, a rock-like certainty, and a sure and hard-earned knowledge of how aeons come and go and how time and eternity interact.
No pearl clutching here then. No laments for the way things used to be. Yeats doesn't give a fig for 'all our yesterdays.' Nor is he cowed by the darkness rampaging everywhere, blotting out the light wherever it can. He has no time or respect for it. It's irrelevant to him. Kids stuff. Not worth bothering about. Not when the world is about to be regenerated. No way.
This led me to reflect that maybe the 'beast' of The Second Coming is only 'rough' and slouching because our age (which is 'perishing' anyway as St. Paul reminds us) has become so degenerate and effete - 'all out of shape from toe to top' - that a necessary purging and renewal can only appear to us as something threatening and unwelcome - 'bestial', in short. Because what Yeats foresees in The Gyres is not at all the hegemony of savages, but actually it's opposite - the return of archetypal, primal human types, men and women who, you might say, have the mark of reality stamped upon their foreheads, individuals who have been and continue to be marginalised under the current, decaying dispensation. They are symbolised in the poem by the figures of the horseman, the lover, the workman, the noble and the saint - the kind of company we would all like to keep, if we're honest, and maybe the kind of person, in one form or another, we would all like to be if only the world hadn't gone off the rails so much and was now orbiting away at a million miles an hour from anything true and real, whether in Heaven or on Earth.
These figures will come again. Yeats had no doubt. And this will be so because they incarnate and embody reality and truth, and reality and truth always have the last word. Their coming may be closer than we think. And the world of falsehood and illusion will not be able to withstand them. Babylon will sink into the sea and the princes of this world will weep and mourn and hide beneath the mountains, but we will stand with Yeats and those 'sages standing in God's holy fire' he evoked in Sailing to Byzantium (1928) and shout out loud for everyone to hear, 'Babylon has fallen. What matter? Rejoice! Rejoice!'
'Why should not old men be mad?' as he asked in another poem. There is madness in The Gyres indeed, but it is a madness that exalts us and leads us on, as Beatrice led on Dante, up to the realm of the gods. This lies at the antipodes of the madness William describes in his piece, which dismembers us spiritually, drags us down and makes us fodder for demons. The madness of The Gyres is the madness which heals. It is the madness which saves. It is the madness we need ...
The gyres! The gyres! Old Rocky Face, look forth;
Things thought too long can be no longer thought,
For beauty dies of beauty, worth of worth,
And ancient lineaments are blotted out.
Irrational streams of blood are staining earth;
Empedocles has thrown all things about;
Hector is dead and there's a light in Troy;
We that look on but laugh in tragic joy.
What matter though numb nightmare ride on top,
And blood and mire the sensitive body stain?
What matter? Heave no sigh, let no tear drop,
A greater, a more gracious time has gone;
For painted forms or boxes of make-up
In ancient tombs I sighed, but not again;
What matter? Out of cavern comes a voice,
And all it knows is that one word 'Rejoice!'
Conduct and work grow coarse, and coarse the soul,
What matter? Those that Rocky Face holds dear,
Lovers of horsemen and of women, shall,
From marble of a broken sepulchre,
Or dark betwixt the polecat and the owl,
Or any rich, dark nothing disinter
The workman, noble and saint, and all things run
On that unfashionable gyre again.