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islamic antichristWhile the world spins forward in what seems an ever-widening spiral of chaos, what conservative cannot lament the loss of all that once seemed stable, certain and secure? W.B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, like T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, seems a stark warning not only about the horrors that were to come in the last century, but the horrors we face in the first years of the present century.

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: somewhere in 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?

Yeats’ poem was written in 1919 when Europe was reeling from the trauma of the First World War, and while similarities to Eliot’s themes echo in the poem, others are right to spot Yeats’ deep involvement in occult philosophies and practice. Ezra Pound had introduced Eliot to the aging Irish poet, and C.S.Lewis, who admired Yeats’ early verse met him twice in 1921 when Yeats was living in Oxford.

While both C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot were influenced by Yeats, both were repulsed by the poet’s occult beliefs. Eliot ridiculed his talk of leprechauns and magical spirits, while Lewis seems bemused by Yeats’ imperious, magus-like performance. He described his visit to Yeats in a letter to his boy hood friend Arthur Greeves as a cross between a visit to a spook house and an amusing encounter with an old ham actor holding court in a shabby, candle lit room.

Both Eliot and Lewis eventually found a “center that would hold” in their conversion to orthodox Christianity, but Yeats’ prophetic vision in his most famous poem is not something Lewis or Eliot would have disavowed.

It is Yeats’ belief that history tumbles through 2,000 year cycles that sparked his famous meditation on the end of an age. The “ever widening gyre” is the tornado of time’s cycle about to expire, leaving nothing but chaos in its wake.

The terrorized observer cries, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Our own times are prophesied as the hounds of war and the dark motivations of twisted religion are stabbed into our world: “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” And are not the incompetence, impotence, arrogance and ignorance of our own leaders summed up in Yeats’ line, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”?

Shakir Wahiyib

Shakir Wahiyib

Yeats’ dark vision captures the mood of our age when all seems to be disintegrating into chaos. His prophetic foresight is even more remarkable in that he sees the Sphinx-like beast rising from the deserts of the East. Yeats claims this vision of a transmogrified man emerges from the Spiritus Mundi—his version of Jung’s the collective unconscious. Who can remain unalarmed in hearing the latest horrors of the ravenous beast of ISIS? Who does not shudder to learn that ISIS chief executioner, Shakir Wahiyib, is called “the Desert Lion,” that the murderous squads of ISIS call themselves “the Lions of Islam,” and the boys they train to kill “the cubs of Islam”? Is not their “gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun” and do we not tremble at the fearsome prophesy fulfilled in our time?

Pope Leo XIII had a frightening vision of the Dark Lord being given one hundred years to do his worst. Many believe the century of evil began with the apparitions of Fatima in 1917. Without being apocalyptically extreme, it is not insane to see the centenary approaching. It is not madness to see the rising whirlwind of chaos in our time and feel that the center cannot hold. It is not paranoia to fear the swelling tide of bloodthirsty jihadists and it is not irrational to ask with the prophetic poet, “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

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10 replies to this post
  1. Certainly a most imaginative stretch — from the poetry coming out of the carnage of World War I and the beheadings by the Islamic State. Word such as “apocalyptically extreme,” ‘madness,” “insane,” “paranoia,” “irrational” would seem to conjure up the opposite of what the author intended. Conservatives can hardly be surprised that the great bulk of humanity have not foregone capital punishment. While traditionalists might find the guillotine a shameful new technological invention, beheadings have been a traditional means of implementing a capital sentence throughout the ages. To exaggerate the significance of their using this means plays into the intention of the jihadists — to demonstrate to the world that they are distinct from all others. Another perspective is that they are barbarous thugs. Contemptible but hardly anything special in a world full of barbarians, thugs and criminal murderers. North Korea’s regime, the Chinese harvesting of the organs of prisoners they execute for their organs, and, closer at home, the harvesting of organs of fetuses — is hardy less worrisome than the jihadists of Syria and Iraq.
    Robert Schadler

    • With all due respect, maybe you will understand it better if you reread this:
      “Pope Leo XIII had a frightening vision of the Dark Lord being given one hundred years to do his worst. Many believe the century of evil began with the apparitions of Fatima in 1917. Without being apocalyptically extreme, it is not insane to see the centenary approaching. It is not madness to see the rising whirlwind of chaos in our time and feel that the center cannot hold. It is not paranoia to fear the swelling tide of bloodthirsty jihadists and it is not irrational to ask with the prophetic poet, “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

      I do not know how much you know about the warning given to Pope Leo XIII (St. Michael the Archangel Prayers) or those made by Our Blessed Mother at Fatima (which history shows message were spot on), but from what I have read over the many years about Pope Leo XIII and Fatima, the connection that Father writes about makes perfect sense.

  2. I wish to concur with Mr. Schadler’s reply, and add a concurrence with Rand Paul, that ISIS is our creation. As to Yeats speaking to our upheavals today, we do not have an upheaval born of bloodletting among technologically advanced nation-states. We have an upheaval born of new cross-national financial titans who have an allegiance to nothing other than their own personal power. Maintaining whatever grade of civilization Rev. Longenecker is after, will be fine with them, so long as it turns a dollar.

  3. What had Yeat in mind? Unlikely the Bolsheviks 18 months in power when he wrote the poem. Maybe the anarchist terrorists described by Conrad and Chesterton 20 years before or so. Or the violently, pan-European nationalist plague of his mid-19th C boyhood (except he became one, for the Irish). It may be imprudent to try to fit poetry onto history except in a metaphorical sense. Even Yeats’s Ouija board didn’t foresee Da’esh.

  4. I thought the allusion in that poem of 1919 was to communism and the recent Bolshevik Revolution. At least that’s what my Norton’s Anthology says. But it does seem to address Islam, doesn’t it?

  5. Yes, it’s pretty clear the broad outlines of the ten-state confederacy of the Islamic Antichrist are taking shape. The countries mentioned in Daniel and Revelation are all Islamic and falling under the influence of ISIS and radical Islam. Those who think ISIS and radical Islam with nukes are no different than say China are sadly mistaken. The spirit of Antichrist clearly pervades this satanic death cult. There is a long tradition in the history of Medieval Christianity acquainting Islam with the Antichrist. This is nothing new, except maybe new to our modern ears. Maybe Yeats was familiar with this.

    • If Islam is the Satanic death cult and not us, why are their deadly sins viewed so seriously, prayers taken so seriously, and abortion rates so minute, by comparison to Western societies? What is more likely cause an apocalypse, ISIS attempts to consolidate their caliphate in a land of limited resources, or our unbridled, impatient, un-Christian response?

      When we get our own house in order, then the world might hear our preaching again.

  6. So Fr. Longenecker–did Yeats mean the Antichrist of Revelation was the Islamic Mahdi? Or did he intend to speak of the “antichrist” figure WITHIN Islamic tradition and texts–al-Dajjal, “the Deceiver?”

  7. I don’t believe Yeats “intended” anything so specific. It is the nature of prophetic visions to be vague. We then read into them the signs of the times and when there are remarkable fulfillments we gasp.

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