Did ‘The Second Coming’, a seminal poem composed by WB Yeats, prophesise the coming of Covid-19? A close dissection of the poem tries to find out
There is no denying that coronavirus has forced people belonging to all echelons of the society into looking at life through different lenses. The most obvious one was, of course, the economic angle. The gloomy economic prognosis thrust upon humans by Covid-19 has taught cross-sections of people to keep money for a rainy day.
At the moment, mavens around the world are going over the probable fallout effects of coronavirus and many countries have even set out to turn the corner. While everyone is so bombarded with the nuts and bolts of Covid-19 pandemic, it won't be a bad notion to embark on a journey as to explore a poetic perspective related to this unanticipated disaster.
Does coronavirus ring any bell? Was the advent of coronavirus evident and did any bard ever prophesise the coming of such a catastrophe? Is there any bigger calamity lurking somewhere to hit the humans hard? A close dissection of 'The Second Coming', a seminal poem composed by W.B Yeats (one of the greatest Irish poets of the 20th century), may lay bare the truth before the inquisitive minds and provide sagacious insights that will help find answers of all these pertinent questions.
The picture that the poet paints in this poem is gloomy and nightmarish. The poet adumbrates a few signs that presage that something formidable, antithetical to what is supposed to be the Second Coming (the reanimation of Jesus), is in the offing. On closer inspection, it gets evident that the first indication is the ubiquity of tumultuous events and chaos everywhere. Yeats, in the poem, elucidates the situation in this way, "The falcon cannot hear the falconer; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world; the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere; the ceremony of innocence is drowned." This is how the present chaotic condition of the society and the civilisation in a broader sense is portrayed.
To expound the idea further, let me adduce some heart-rending facts. According to information presented in a paper by ReliefWeb, the largest humanitarian information portal in the world, the number of state-based armed conflicts in the world increased slightly from 50 in 2017 to 52 in 2018 whereas after the 9/11 attacks, around 800,000 people have died owing to different ongoing wars around the world until mid-November 2019 (according to estimates by Brown University's Costs of War Project). That's not all -- much to our surprise, some 300 babies worldwide die every day because of war, Save the Children claimed in a report focused on 2017.
After all these staggering stats it needs no mentioning that things have already fallen apart as our demagogues have found it more suitable to throw the whole world under the bus than making the world a better place to live in and ameliorating the living standards of the denizens.
The second sign that augurs a bad blowback is the fact that we will suffer from intellectual bankruptcy. This is what is happening now. While a group of intellectuals are practicing self-abnegation and have muzzled themselves, some others have aligned themselves with the bevy of apologists who are patronised by the power. Yeats says, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst; Are full of passionate intensity." A closer look at the profile of the public university VCs and the extent they are abusing their power will help someone get his head around what's going on.
Last year in October, against the backdrop of widespread allegations of irregularities and corruption the University Grants Commission (UGC) initiated inquiries against the vice-chancellors of 14 public universities. In continuation to that, a University Grants Commission (UGC) inquiry has recently found evidence of various irregularities committed under the aegis of the vice-chancellor of Rajshahi University (RU) Prof M Abdus Sobhan. As it transpired, he has manoeuvred the recruitment policy just to appoint his kith and kin.
Apart from him, another VC who is leading the 'Oxford of the East' has already earned repute for his lousy comments and macabre sense of humour, not for his sagacity. Such people lacking the requisite acuity and acumen have snatched away the top positions of the highest echelons of higher education. This is the truth of our pedagogues who are supposed to be the torchbearers. Such people of questionable moral rectitude are weaving their success stories in almost every sector treading on the silence of the folks who are the salt of the earth.
The poet then goes on to prognosticate that the 'Second Coming' is approaching near. He also visibilises the revelation by the dint of a metaphorical comparison to a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man. The image that the poet creates is itself very disturbing, so are the consequences it will bring about along with it in the world.
The image is followed by the final hints that define the ghastly creature and the aftermaths associated with it. The poet affirms with conviction that the 'Second Coming' we are talking about is not going to be something worth experiencing rather it will wreak havoc and shake the whole world to its foundation. Coronavirus has done so, hasn't it? So, is it this rogue virus that portends the arrival of something as grisly as the image abjured out of Spiritus Mundi (world spirit)? The speaker in the poem leaves behind some signs to decide for yourself -- "A shape with lion body and the head of a man; A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun".
The image now makes more sense insinuating that the time is up for humanity, and that civilisation as we know it stands at a crossroads. Phrases such as 'a gaze blank' and 'pitiless as the sun' also embody our fleeting humanity and lack of compassion. Covid-19 has definitely made it all the more conspicuous that ideas like humanity and empathy dwell on the past. If not so, then how can people like Sabrina and Shahed can think about cashing in on a humanitarian crisis caused by coronavirus and fishing in the troubled waters?
And how about this optics -- new research has unfolded that the cases of domestic violence against women have surged dramatically worldwide during lockdown. The coronavirus has compounded the situation further as two-thirds of women in abusive relationships have suffered more violence during the pandemic, reported BBC. Such apathetic attitude to our counterparts definitely speak volumes about our failure to recognise the abject sufferings others go through.
Now, the curious mind wants to know – is that all or there is more to it? Yeats thinks otherwise for sure as he augurs that twenty centuries of stony sleep is about to come to an end with the genesis of something that will change the world forever and those alchemical changes are not going to allay our fear, rather those will only exacerbate the present chaotic situation. He puts those thoughts into words in this way - "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last; Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
So, whether you like it or not, the fact is coronavirus (with the second wave around the corner) is just the tip of the iceberg and we are yet to see the greater picture. We really don't know how desperate the countries would be, what kind of draconian measures they would undertake and what type of shenanigans they would come up with to bring their economy out of its slumber, and the degree of their desperation will determine how low humans will stoop as it has always been the things such as megalomania, avarice and hegemony that have brought down apocalypse on the earth. So, you never know what rough beast is slouching forward to be born as fallout of Covid-19.
The writer is a Philomath.