15 December 2016, The Tablet

Our dark world will see the light


Was Yeats right? “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” were his despairing words as he regarded not the World War just ended but prospects for the future afterwards. The poem, written in 1919, seems less a commentary on the world-shattering events from which Europe had just emerged, more a lament for the political instability of the Ireland of his day. The deeper meaning which makes it relevant to those living a century later, may be deduced from his final lines: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

As Christmas once again approaches, and the world is once again tormented by instability and uncertainty, that may well describe how faith is still seen through the eyes of secular modernity: not a source of deliverance, a reason to be joyful, but a spoiled dream (Yeats speaks of a “nightmare”) that adults can no longer entertain – at best, hope betrayed; at worst, a cynical delusion that also contains a dreadful warning.

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