Slouching Towards Bethlehem
What's this song about?
In 1919 William Butler Yeats was depressed. The world had just come through “The War to End All Wars” (yeah, right!). Other "smaller" wars were still going on and humanity was in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Sound familiar? That pandemic is now referred to as the Spanish Flu. Interestingly, despite its name, researchers believe the Spanish flu most likely originated in the United States. One of the first recorded cases was on March 11, 1918, at Fort Riley in Kansas. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions created a fertile breeding ground for the virus.
At any rate, one of the groups at highest risk of dying from the virus was pregnant women, and Yeats’ wife was pregnant; she almost died. So Yeats was pretty despondent. He was so despondent that he wrote a particularly depressing poem called “The Second Coming”, which basically implied that the world was coming to an end. The poem drew a lot of its imagery from The Book of Revelations. Check out the poem:
The Second Coming
W. B. Yeats - 1865-1939
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?
“spiritus mundi” refers to Yeats' belief that each human mind is linked to a single vast intelligence, and that this intelligence causes certain universal symbols to appear in individual minds. The idea is similar to Carl Jung's concept of the collective unconscious.
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity"
Yup! That's about right.
I recall that every now and then in high school, one of my classmates would be absolutely convinced that the world was going to end,….on Tuesday at 2:12 PM. I don’t think any of them were ever right.
It seems to me that every generation has a small but devoted group of “The World Is Going To End” adherents. This time however, we actually do have the tools to destroy the world, either through environmental catastrophe or nuclear warfare.
This song, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is inspired by Yeats’ poem. It is
also, perhaps, a somewhat satiric look at some current world events. Political pop.
Strange how it came out sounding like such a happy song.