Monday, February 25, 2013

Considering Yeats "The Second Coming"

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: a waste of desert sand;
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
Wind 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?

After Shakespeare quotes, usually taken out of context, I find there are only a few poems really still vying for relevance within popular culture. Most seem to be surviving as something villains and antiheroes quote. For example, Marlon Brando cites "The Hollow Men," by T.S. Eliot in Apocalypse Now. Or Rutger Hauer paraphrases William Blake in Blade Runner. Robin Williams quotes Whitman in Dead Poets Society, of course, as the cultured iconoclast.

Among other poems I find doing "well," are poems such as Yeats "The Second Coming," but usually only the first verse or a paraphrasing of it. He's often arrived quoted in comic books or other genre works lately. Pierce Bysshe Shelly's "Ozymandias," also comes up time and again.

Tennyson's "Ulysses" most recently appeared in Skyfall. A.E. Housman's "Epitaph for an Army of Mercenaries," has also exhibited remarkable staying power.

It gets me to wondering what we've written in the last 10 years, or even 20, that will be read and remembered, for better or worse, in the popular culture of the coming century. Particularly among Asian American poets.

I find myself contemplating the lines from Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction as he explains why he had constantly been "quoting" Ezekiel 25:17, or at least paraphrasing it as it was presented at the beginning of Sonny Chiba movie. The particular line being "Now... I been sayin' that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, that meant your ass. You'd be dead right now. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice..."

But what are some of the poems you see our generation continually turning to, and which ones do you feel are becoming overused and lazy shorthand?

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