Things Fall Apart?

Peregrine falcon passing food to a fledgling (Royal Courts of Justice, 2021)

Dear Readers, I have been asked several times over the past few weeks if I feel as if things are ‘falling apart’, in the context of work, or the UK, or the world in general. There is a certain dramatic appeal about the notion that we are all going to hell in a handbasket, and there is much to support the idea – climate change is running rampant, poverty is rife, the NHS is pushed to its absolute limit and clouds are gathering in many corners of the world. Was W.B Yeats right? His poem is so often misquoted (not least by my husband ahem) and so I include it here in its entirety. Am I the only person who cannot read it without a frisson of fear, or anxiety?

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: 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?

And of course, he was right. The poem was written in 1919, and while it clearly has shadows of what was to come in the Second World War, and also of the specific situation in Ireland, it was composed while Yeats’s pregnant wife was convalescing from the Spanish Flu, in the midst of a time of great fear and anguish. I must say that for me, I sense the shadow of the pandemic in the poem, and even of bird flu and its possible mutations, but maybe ‘The Second Coming’ is a work for all ages. It plays into our anxieties and fears, and so much can be read into that ‘gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun’.

We seem to be transfixed with the idea of the apocalypse – there are so many books and tv series about the end of the world as we know it, of varying quality. We like to play with the idea of annihilation, without engaging with it. Sometimes it all just feels too much, I know. But then, the plants in the meadow that we’ve planted in the playing fields next to Coldfall Wood are germinating and today I noticed that there are meadows springing up everywhere for the Coronation. These will feature native plants, and in some areas they are specifically including local plants, which will make for a varied and interesting set of habitats. Let’s hope that they’re well managed after the coronation is over, and for years to come. As we’ve lost 97% of our meadows in the UK it will be good to see them making a comeback. I think it says something that the best image of a meadow that I currently have is of the one below, taken in Austria. Let’s hope that we get our act together here in the UK too.

An Austrian Alpine meadow, soon to be (hopefully) found all over the UK

So, let’s not be blinded and paralysed by the enormity of the things that are happening. There are good things happening, as always, on a local, national and international scale. I for one can’t wait to see what our little local meadow will produce, and which creatures will come as a result of it. Watch this space!



3 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart?

  1. sllgatsby

    A lovely post and I had not read that Yeats poem. I think that he is not as popular here in the US as in the UK, but I see that his poem is referenced in many works i have read, Such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. What a powerful poem it is! Thank you for sharing it.

    I was discussing this idea that we’re doomed with a friend who is an environmental activist and she said that is a cowards way out; that it’s very easy to throw up one’s hands and say it’s all over. She said it takes courage to keep hope alive and to keep putting energy into positive change. I agree. I find some days, I’m not up to it, while others I’m firing on all cylinders! I’m certainly a work in progress.

    Much as I am not a fan of the monarchy, I am happy to see Charles’s environmental efforts. I am confused though, as the quote from him in the link, about the meadows and celebrating his mother’s coronation, was from 2013. Are the meadow’s only being created now, 10 years later?

  2. Liz Norbury

    It is shocking that we have lost 97 per cent of our meadows within the lifetimes of our parents’ generation. How did we as a country allow this to happen? I do wonder how much impact the Coronation Meadows scheme has had in the 10 years since it was launched – here in Cornwall, I think we have just one new meadow, and there’s no indication that the project is being relaunched to mark the actual coronation, which is surely a missed opportunity. On a brighter note, there seems to be a growing interest in creating community meadows, such as your local one by Coldfall Wood – which sounds wonderful – so perhaps royal involvement isn’t needed!

    The W B Yeats poem is certainly bleak, and in some ways, today’s world is more frightening than the world of 100 years ago, as you say. The worst among us now seem to be full of cynicism rather than passionate intensity, prepared to do anything in pursuit of money and power – including stirring up passionate intensity in others. But across the centuries (and probably in many different cultures) people have been convinced that they are living through the end of days, yet the human race is still here!

  3. Claire

    Lots of people before us saw their world fall apart, but some of them survived and managed to reach their goal ( my parents in 1939, their parents in 1914, and so on…)I try to persuade myself that we will be able to do something about the damages we have done to our planet…difficult to believe, sometimes. Especially after reading a lot of science fiction( John Wyndham, JG Ballard, Brian Aldiss…)


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