Slouching Among US

An Iredell County, NC  local paper carried the front-page headline “Extremely Alarming” above the fold today, September 01. A large bar-graph showed the rise in COVID from March 17 to August 31. The article quotes Megan Redford of the county health department, “Our current test positivity rate is 13.5%, up form a low of 1.6% in mid-June.” Redford went on to explain, “Our greatest concern at the moment is our hospitals being overwhelmed and reaching capacity.” This is in a county where 43.6% of the population has received at least one shot.

Below this article is a long report on the 85th Iredell County Agricultural County Fair which will open on Friday, September 03 at the county fairgrounds in Troutman. The article points out that because of COVID in 2020 the fair, sponsored by the Statesville Kiwanis Club, did not open, but this year will operate until September 11.

The juxtaposition of these two articles graphically demonstrates our relationship with this pandemic: On one level some of us are aghast at its lethal powers and take the jab, but others think that they have done enough concerning COVID and it is time to stop allowing it to run our lives. Some of the latter have taken medicine designed to rid cattle of worms as a preventative against COVID.

After my wife showed me the front page with the two stories, I read each article and thought of a poem written by William Butler Yates in 1919. I copy the entire poem for you, the reader:

“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?

The world of 1919 was in turmoil: A world war, the Russian Revolution,  a world-wide pandemic, and other political, social, and economic ills threatened stability. It seems that Yeats’ poem could also be written about our present climate.

Yeats’ poem has been used and abused by writers since its publication in  Dial Magazine. Some of them simply used it while others abused it, but I only wish to use a few words and phrases of his to show our peril one hundred years after he penned them.

 Are we in a loosened tide so full of blood that it has created an environment where “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” Think of people who are so passionate for a cause that they will inject animal medicine or bleach to supposedly protect themselves against COVID while exhausted medical workers have or may have lost all their conviction.

Stanza two begins with the statement: “Surely some revelation is at hand;” and examines what that statement can be. The poet wonders if it is the promised Second Coming when a “lion body and the head of a man” rises from the desert sand. Like the poet, we in 2021 are being given a message, but do we understand it?

A “rough beast” whose hour has arrived “ round at last” does not, as Nick Tabor points out in his fine essay on the poem, plod as we expect it to. It does not come like a movie monster or Shelley’s Frankenstein with its heavy feet. Tabor explains: “But plodding is a conscious action; slouching is not. We can’t even tell whether the beast has a will of its own. The verb heightens the mystery and dread.”

We may not understand or believe in the dangers exhibited by the bar graph showing the  dramatic rise in COVID. We may not trust the CDC or  any medical person. But to deny the existence of this “rough beast” that has now slouched into our  lives is life threatening. It will not go away unless we act in a positive way to stop its spread. And holding a county fair or football games or other rites of our so-called “normal” will only allow this evil to slouch among us, enjoying the show and spreading its death.

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