Thursday, May 18, 2023

We've been here before

A test for just how badly everything is going:
The test is from a 2018 commentary by Irish essayist Fintan O’Toole. He calls it “the Yeats test.” He wrote, “The proposition is simple: the more quotable Yeats seems to commentators and politicians, the worse things are.”

Specifically, O’Toole references William Butler Yeats’s “magnificently doom-laden” 1919 poem “The Second Coming.” You may have heard many parts of this poem all your life without realizing it: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Yeats wrote this poem at a time when it indeed seemed, as his poem says, that “mere anarchy” had been unleashed on the world—with the seismic catastrophes of the 1918 flu pandemic and, of course, World War I. O’Toole argues that when speeches repeatedly cite this poem or when Google searches magnify looking for its phrases, times often feel especially chaotic.

The reverse is true, he says, if we see a spike in quotations from another Irish poet, Seamus Heaney—such as his phrase “hope and history rhyme.” When we hear leaders use lines like that, times may feel more stable. ....

Even so, O’Toole argues, in all its bleakness, “The Second Coming” is kind of a sign of hope.

“It reminds us that we’ve been here before, that the current sense of profound unsettlement is not unique in modern history,” he writes. “Perhaps especially on social media, where everything exists in a continuous, frantic present tense, the insertion of Yeats might do something to provoke a wider reflection on the big things that are happening around us and where they might lead.” ....

Regardless, even when it seems the “center cannot hold,” we can remember, as the hymn teaches us, “In every high and stormy gale / My anchor holds within the veil.” Things fall apart, yes. But Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). (more)
Russell Moore, "The Dwight Schrute Theory of American Culture," Christianity Today, May 19, 2023.

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