Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Hidden Sun


It is disheartening to observe how normalised and embedded all these Covid restrictions are becoming - social-distancing, masks, limitations on movement, etc. A relentless tide of propaganda and social pressure internalises this 'new normal' for us, and it feels increasingly difficult to think and act outside the narrow parameters hedging us in.

Yet as the outer world drifts into darkness, so the inner world - like the stars at night - shines out in new-found vigour. 'He must increase; I must decrease.' It is a universal law, though we need the gifts of discernment and attentiveness to perceive it, two qualities which our anti-contemplative contemporary milieu does its level best at all times to quash.

So what do we find now in November 2020 when we stop, look and listen to what's happening within? In my case this year it has often been a case of passages of familiar text - prayers, poems, or parts of novels - springing to new life like a string of pearls in my mind. An example is this intense, deeply-metaphysical reflection from the second chapter of Charles Williams' novel All Hallows' Eve (1945). The recently-widowed Richard Furnival is paying a visit to his artist friend Jonathan Drayton. One canvas in particular compels his attention:


' ... It was a part of London after a raid - he thought, of the City proper, for a shape on the right reminded him dimly of St. Paul's. At the back were a few houses, but the rest of the painting was of a wide stretch of desolation. The time was late dawn; the sky was clear; the light came, it seemed at first, from the yet unrisen sun behind the single group of houses. The light was the most outstanding thing in the painting; presently, as Richard looked, it seemed to stand out from the painting, and almost to dominate the rom itself. At least it so governed the painting that all other details and elements were contained within it. They floated in that imaginary light as the earth does in the sun's. The colours were so heightened that they were almost at odds. Richard saw again what the critics meant when they said that Jonathan Drayton's paintings "we're shrill" or "shrieked", but he also saw that what prevented this was a certain massiveness. The usual slight distinction between shape and hue seemed wholly to have vanished. Colour was more intensely image than it can usually manage to be, even in that art. A beam of wood painted amber was more than that; it was light which had become amber to become wood. All that massiveness of colour was led, by delicate gradations almost like the vibrations of light itself, towards the hidden sun; the eye encountered the gradations in their outward passage and moved inwards towards towards their source. It was then that the style of the painting came fully into its own. The spectator became convinced that the source of that light was was not only in that hidden sun; as, localised, it certainly was. "Here lies the east; does not the day break here?" The day did, but the light did not. The eye, nearing that particular day, realised that it was leaving the whole fullness of the light behind. It was everywhere in the painting - concealed in houses and in their projected shadows, lying in ambush in the cathedral, opening in the rubble, vivid in the vividness of the sky. It would everywhere have burst through, had it not chosen rather to be shaped into forms, and to restrain and change its greatness in the colours of their lesser limits. It was universal, and lived. 

Richard said at last: "I wish you could have shown the sun."

"Yes?" said Jonathan. "Why?"

"Because then I might have known whether the light's in the sun or the sun's in the light."

"And very agreeable criticism," Jonathan said. "I admit you imply a whole lot of what I only hope are correct comments on the rest of it. You approve?"

"It's far and away the best thing you've done," Richard answered. "It's almost the only thing you've done - now you've done it. It's like a modern Creation of the World, or at least a Creation of London."


These are especially salutary words, I feel, for where we are now in the UK. Williams depicts light as a tough, sinewy thing, not easily shifted or extinguished, neither cowed nor intimidated by this 'wide stretch of desolation.' The sun may be hidden, but it is still very much present, obdurate and patient, waiting for its moment - like the Hidden Imam of Shia Islam - to emerge from occlusion and transform the barren world below. 

Williams' reflection is very much worth living with for a while and meditating upon. We should let it seep into us and inform the way we see and apprehend the world, now more than ever as the air grows colder, the days shorten, and the sinister notion of the Great Reset shifts from conspiracy theory to hard fact. As is often (and truly) said, what we focus on grows. 

'Let there be light,' said God in the beginning, and there was. It's still here too - resolute and tenacious - emanating from a source behind and beyond the screen of surface phenomena which we cannot see or grasp with just our earthly eyes. 

'The light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.' That is true. But the darkness has never conquered it and never will. The light remains invincible - our ally, friend, protector and guide. It will strike out, just as day follows night, when the hour to push back comes round at last. All we have to do is watch, wait, contribute and create where we can, and pray.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Roman Canon

 

It was the day the national lockdown started - Friday March 20th. I was in Llandudno - about four or five o'clock, I think - doing some run of the mill stuff - taking books back to the library, buying stamps from the Post Office, that sort of thing.

It was a lovely day, I remember - sunshine and clear blue sky, with the smell of the sea as enticing as ever. Yet it felt to me like I was a bit-part player in The Towering Inferno, taking one last gulp of air before the smoke overpowered me. On some deep level - even though on the surface everything looked the same as always - I think I knew that things would never be the same again.

My mind must have been in a bit of a haze with it all because I found myself in a part of town I had never been in before. I had no idea how I got there either - a tight network of streets and back to back houses, just behind the big hotels which run along the seafront. And there, between a house and a little builders yard, was a church. It was ordinary enough in appearance - late Victorian, I'd say - red brick walls with lots of ivy and a small, unobtrusive steeple. I had no intention of going in but the door was open and I could clearly discern the comforting and - for me - mentally cleansing scent of incense emanating from within. Instantly I realised how desperately in need I was of some close contact with the Divine, so without even bothering to read the sign I headed straight into the church.

A bell rang three times as I crossed the threshold and tried to get a sense of where I was and what was going on. The answer, at first sight, was obvious enough. 'Do this in memory of me,' I heard the priest declaim at the altar. He was celebrating ad orientem, so I could only see the back of his head and the purple chasuble he was wearing. He was a tall man with short brown hair and a bald spot on the top. He bowed down low then lifted the silver chalice above his head as the altar server - a teenage boy, I think, with flame-red hair - rang the bell.

There was a Mass taking place, and I had come in right at the end of the consecration. That was obvious, normal and welcome, but as I got my bearings I swiftly realised that this was a radically different Mass - in style and setting, if not in tone - to any I had previously attended.

The first odd thing was that this was a part of the Mass when everyone should have been kneeling - I very much wanted to kneel myself - yet there were no pews and no kneelers and no-one was kneeling down. All those present - about a dozen souls  - were standing around the altar, fanning out on either side of the priest. Some of them had hands extended out towards the consecrated gifts - in blessing, it seemed - as if they were priests themselves. Yet there was nothing impious or improper about the gesture. On the contrary, it struck me as rather touching. Maybe that was because of the kind of people they were - a variety of ages but all poor-looking and somewhat shabbily dressed. One elderly lady had holes in her mittens. A man who looked about thirty or so seemed to have some form of the shakes, as if he were a recovering addict or struggling with a health condition. There was a humility about them which I liked. Also a real focus and attention on the priest's actions at the altar. The atmosphere was at once homely and transcendent. There could be no doubt that something important was happening. 

The layout of the church clearly helped in this respect - lots of candles at the little shrines which ran the length of both side walls, each shrine with its own Eastern-style icon of an angel or saint. A second altar server with thick black hair and beard stood behind the worshippers on the left-hand side, swinging a sliver thurifer up and down. The incense swirled around the nave and I couldn't help but feel that I had somehow landed in a miniature version of the mighty cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

The comforting, powerful words of the Roman Canon rolled on:

'In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through our participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and blessing. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.'

There was a stillness and inner strength to the priest which I greatly responded to. I hope I meet him again. I couldn't see the tabernacle, of course, because he as standing right in front of it, but directly above the altar, suspended from the ceiling by very thin cord, was a large reproduction of Andrei Rublev's famous icon of the Trinity. And as I focused my eyes on it, the great Eucharistic prayer lifted me up, as it were, until it felt like I was almost on a level with the holy image:

'To us also, your servants, who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and all your Saints: admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing out merits, but granting us your pardon through Christ our Lord.'

It struck me there and then, with sheer and absolute clarity, that this liturgy goes on in Heaven all the time and that the Roman Canon is prayed there without ceasing for ever and ever, and that this in some sense is what Heaven is. At that moment I wished so much that I was there and felt, in fact, that such a translation might be close at hand. It was an extraordinary moment, like the start of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when the picture of the ship on the wall grows bigger and pulls the children into the water and into Narnia. It seemed like Rublev's icon had somehow expanded in size and that the three figures were beckoning me in, inviting me to join them. But then I heard my phone vibrate in my pocket. I'd forgotten to switch it off. I'd better go out and answer it, I thought. It might be to do with the children.

As if recoiling from my distracted state, the icon shrank back to its normal size. But as I turned and walked back through the nave I was at least given the grace of hearing the end of the prayer - the end of the Roman Canon and in fact of all four Eucharistic prayers. Like a final blessing bestowed on me by the mysterious church, those ringing, holy words - sung now, not said - followed me out the door:

'Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever.'

And the 'Amen' that boomed out in response was so loud and resonant that it seemed to come not from a dozen poor and broken people but from a congregation of thousands.

*

The phone call was nothing to do with the kids. It was a mere administrative matter - the same 'person from Porlock,' perhaps - who interrupted Coleridge when he was writing Kubla Khan. But it had turned cold outside and to keep myself warm while talking I walked all the way down the street with the aim of returning to the church for the end of Mass. 

I didn't pay much attention to where my feet were taking me, but when the call ended I found myself not too far from Mostyn Street, which is Llandudno's main thouroughfare, and realised that it was half five and that if I didn't get the bus soon I'd be late back home, and with all the hoo-hah about the lockdown I'd probably need to get back as soon as I could. 

Once on Mostyn Street I saw an X5 approaching. So I caught it and went back home, fully intending to revisit the church at the earliest opportunity. But as so many others have found out this year, Coronavirus and its associated myriad of restrictions have made havoc of all our plans. I took an extra job to keep us afloat as my main job had been affected by the lockdown. So now both of my jobs were in Bangor, a city about twenty-five miles west from Llandudno.

I worked full-time all through the lockdown and only started going back to Llandudno in the second half of the summer. I've had chance since then to look for the church again but every time I've the opportunity I've decided not to. And that's because I know deep down that both the church and the district do not exist on the maps, and that on the day the lockdown began - whether it was the stress of the situation playing on my mind or a deeper reality opened up to me by God - something exceptional happened, some level of supernatural insight, which can't and won't be repeated. Not in that exact manner anyway.

I've prayed about the episode since at Mass and given thanks to God for what occurred. But apart from recognising that it was something remarkable, I haven't been able to discern any meaning or pattern behind it. Until last week, that is, and Pope Francis' controversial remarks on civil unions for same-sex couples.

These comments confused and disorientated me, to be honest, but as I was standing on Deganwy beach last Sunday morning (the churches disgracefully shut again as part of the Welsh 'fire-break' lockdown) I felt again that same sense of certainty that came to me at the church when the icon drew me in. And what struck me very clearly was that the Mass in the strange church was a vision from the future - from a time not too far off now maybe - when the Western and Eastern churches will be united again. This, I realised, is Pope Francis' hidden work - his great task and secret project - and that all the hullabaloo about this, that and the other is a distraction, planted in the media to cause a fuss and keep the world's eyes away from this saving work until the time is ripe for Europe's two lungs, as Pope St. John Paul II put it, to breathe as one again. 

'Seems a long shot,' I said out loud to myself as I threw a pebble into the choppy waters. But then again, I reflected, when the disciples gathered in sorrow, shock and mourning on that most miserable of Holy Saturday's, the imminent resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour must have felt like the biggest long shot of them all. 



Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Prayer for King Harold


We pray today, O God, for King Harold Godwinson, his thanes and housecarls and all the men who died with him fighting for this land on this day, 1066. Welcome them, O Lord, into the light of your face. May they find in your presence the light, happiness, refreshment and peace they deserve.

Harold lost at Hastings, as it were, out of the goodness of his heart. Had he been sensible, had he been prudent, he would have rested his troops after his triumph at Stamford Bridge and gathered as many extra forces to his standard as he could. But he knew that William was ravaging his own Earldom, Wessex, and he could not sit and wait and let his people suffer.

Even against a tired, denuded army the Normans could find no way through. Harold's tactics were spot on and he should have won the day. But as with Hector in his duel with Achilles, the gods had turned against him, and his supporters (myself, for instance) have to accept that at some level the Conquest must have been your will.

So when our time comes to take a stand, may we enjoy the luck that deserted Harold that day on Senlac Hill. He fought fand died for Old England, a Christian Kingdom that once formed part of the wider, united body of European Christendom, Catholic and Orthodox at the same time. This was a country that remembered the old gods too, and it is these religious impulses - at once universal and deeply-rooted - that we must seek and find anew at this hour. Because as Martin Heidegger put it so well, 'Only a god can save us now.'

The Normans were brutal and cold-heated but they at least believed in God and left us some wonderful cathedrals. Their descendants, however, who sit now in Westminster, have ceased believing in God. They have turned instead - subconsciously at first, maybe, but more and more openly now - to the Father of Lies who squats in the depths of Hell below.

As for ourselves though - sons and daughters of Albion - we turn to you, the Father of Lights, Blake's 'Countenance Divine', shining down upon us from above. Send Michael the Archangel to our aid, O God, and with him Athelstan, Alfred and Arthur. And at the heart of this sacred English host let us see once more the standard of King Harold - the 'Fighting Man' - rallying the men and women of this isle to the True King's side. Together again with our Sovereign - once fallen, now risen - we will cut to shreds the clouds of evil and illusion which assail our realm and build that New Jerusalem on England's green and pleasant land.

King Harold of England, pray for us. Pray for our country. Pray for Europe and for Christendom.

Christus Regnat! Christus Vincit! Christus Imperat!


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Beyond the Ruins (Update)

I am currently working on a condensed, poetically-charged (hopefully) version of this summer's Beyond the Ruins story. I'm hoping to submit it to a certain journal, which has featured my writing before, in a few weeks time.

I don't think I'll put it on the blog if they don't accept it. I'll probably try to use it as a base for a longer story-cycle. We'll see.

I will continue to post in this space, starting next weekend hopefully with a brief fictional meditation on what I feel (with no empirical evidence, mind you) might be the secret aim and destiny of Pope Francis' papacy.

Many blessings, and may all good things fall down, upon, and around you and yours, this week and every week.

Slainte,

JF

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Stamford Bridge Day




Today, September 25th, is the anniversary of one of the greatest military triumphs of Anglo-Saxon England, the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. King Harold II and his army comprehensively dismantled a colossal Viking force, captained by Harald Hardraada of Norway and Harold's renegade brother, Tostig. The English victory was as emphatic as they come and brought to a definitive end neatly three hundred years of incursions and invasions from Scandinavia.

Stamford Bridge is inevitably overshadowed, however, by what happened near Hastings nineteen days later when Harold lost his kingdom and his life on the ridge of Senlac Hill. The Norman Conquest, in many ways, was the price the Saxons paid for their dispatching  of the Vikings, though Harold could have helped himself more than he did by taking his time to rest and regroup and not rush down headlong, as he did in the end, to lock antlers with the Normans when there was no immediate need.

The tragedy of Hastings casts a long shadow over our history. It is present still today and there is a sense, I feel, in which it can be said that the English are perhaps the most deeply colonised of all the peoples who were subdued first by the Norman state and then by its outgrowth and development, the British Empire. To a large extent they have forgotten who they were prior to 1066 and, what is more, have forgotten that they have forgotten! They have come to identify themselves with the achievements and legacy of Anglo-Norman England, which is a very different thing and distinctly foreign in spirit to the Anglo-Saxon polity that came before. It is not for nothing that J.R.R. Tolkien intensely disliked the Normans. Perhaps he intuited the scale and depth of the civilisational takeover they so brutally and efficiently executed.

There are signs, however, that this might be starting to change. Paul Kingsnorth's 2015 novel, The Wake, is a case in point, with its description - in Kingsnorth's vivid interpretation of Old English - of an embittered, embattled English resistance leader in the immediate post-Conquest era - 


There has been chatter this year too about restoring some form of regional governance in England. If we had such a thing, the writer Ed West argues in this short piece, then our response to Coronavirus might have been more joined-up and coherent, as was that of Germany, a country well known, of course, for its strong traditions of regional autonomy. What better model could we have for this then than the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy? 


I will conclude this post with R.J Unstead's account of the Battle of Stamford Bridge from his The Story of Britain (1969), ostensibly for children but required reading, to my mind, for anyone with a stake in British politics, society and culture. We really need to tap into what is depicted here, own it, and make it ours - love of one's land and locale, and an absolute refusal to let an enemy (internal or external) dictate terms and set the agenda. King Harold's response to Hardraada and Tostig was simple, direct and clear, but he took the same approach to the south coast and William of Normandy and it proved his undoing. So we have to pick our battles and know when to go forward and when to draw back. But in my view it is the spirit of Stamford Bridge which is required right now, faced as we are with a 'conservative' government which does anything but conserve, led by a Prime Minister who is the very embodiment of the Anglo-Norman élite who have sucked the blood out of 'England's green and pleasant land' for nigh on a millennium. 

William 'English' Blake railed against their scientific and philosophical representatives, Isaac Newton and John Locke, and we should do the same. We should rail against the Anglo-Norman élite wherever we find them. We should 'rage hard', as the old Frankie Goes to Hollywood song says, and keep the sainted memory of King Harold alive and fresh, especially at this time with England teetering on the brink of tyranny. The winning and losing is not what matters ultimately. It is the stance taken and the attitude shown that counts. In this respect, 'these clouded hills', to quote Blake again, could have no better role model and exemplar ...
      

'... Harold had just disbanded his army (who had been waiting for the Normans all summer) and sent the fleet to the Thames, when a call for help came from the north. Three hundred longships had sailed into the Humber and an army of Norsemen, led by Harald Hardraada, King of Norway, was ravaging the land like a pack of wolves. Earl Tostig was there with the invaders, for he had invited Harald Hardraada, the giant Viking, who had fought all over Europe, to come to take his brother's throne.

'Hardraada defeated the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria, and made them promise to help him against Harold. Then they waited for the English King at Stamford Bridge, a wooden bridge that crossed the Derwent, seven miles from York.

'With housecarls and as many fighting-men as he could muster, Harold came north at furious speed. In York, he learned that the enemy was only a short distance off, so, refusing to rest, he drove his tired men on without a pause. They came to Stamford Bridge, where the Norwegian host was camped on both banks, their armour laid aside and their ranks unformed.

'Harold sent a message to Tostig. He would pardon him and restore him to his earldom if he came across to the English side.

'"And what land will my brother give to Harald Hardraada?"

'Angrily, Harold replied, "To the King of Norway, I will give six feet of English earth. No, seven feet, seeing that he is taller than other men and needs a longer grave!"

'Then he gave the order to attack. The English broke through the forces on the West Bank of the river but were checked by a gigantic Viking who held the bridge until he was speared from below by a soldier who had crept under the timbers. Once across the river, the English infantry cut the host to pieces and, as Harald Hardraada and Tostig lay dead in the field, they chased the remnant back to the ships.

'Harold had kept his word. The most famous war-captain lay in his seven foot grave, the pirate army was destroyed and only a few survivors were sailing ruefully back to Norway. The English buried their dead and tended the wounded, as the monks sang the Thanksgiving in York Minster.'


Thursday, September 10, 2020

C.S. Lewis and Our Current Moment

Last week I had to complete some unconscious bias training for work purposes. It seemed a relatively benign experience on the whole. It was an online course and only took half an hour. Certainly not a 'struggle session' or anything like that.

At the very end, however, in the recap section, a phrase leapt out at me: 'Don't trust your intuition. Rely on objective data instead.' And a million alarm bells rang out in my mind. I was reminded straightaway of the Objective Room in C.S. Leiws's That Hideous Strength, where Mark Studdock is taken by the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (NICE) to be re-educated. The aim is to rub out the individual's innate sense of right and wrong and make him into a tabula rasa so that supposedly objective, but in reality evil, assumptions can be implanted in him instead:

'To sit in the room, Mark understood, was the first step towards what Dr. Frost called objectivity - the process whereby all specifically human attributes were killed in a man... Higher degrees in the asceticism of anti-Nature would doubtless follow: the eating of abominable food, the dabbling in dirt and blood, the ritual performances of calculated obscenities.'

Mark observes a number of pictures in the room:

'At first, most of them seemed rather ordinary, though Mark was a little surprised at the predominance of scriptural themes. It was only in the second or third glance that one discovered certain unaccountable details - something odd about the positions of the figures' feet or the arrangement of their fingers or the grouping. And who was the person standing between the Christ and the Lazarus? And why were there so many beetles under the table in the Last Supper? What was the curious trick of lighting that made every picture look like something seen in delirium?'

This theme of the corruption of art led me to reflect on how something like the above might be achieved by the powers of evil in the world today but on a much wider, societal scale. The idea came to me that perhaps what Satan really wants out of this whole Coronavirus saga is a huge symbolic triumph. He knows that the symbolic level is the most important of all. It cuts far deeper than the political and social levels. So what if he was able to engineer a complete rewriting of human spiritual and cultural history, symbolised perhaps by a reworking of Michelangelo's Last Judgment, with some characters erased so that everyone on the canvas can be socially distanced and with all of them wearing masks?

It sounds far-fetched, I know, but what more potent, long-lasting and deeply Orwellian way could there be of embedding and encoding the 'new normal' into our minds?  

'We have always been at war with Eastasia. There was never a time when we were not at war with Eastasia.'

'We have always worn masks. There was never a time when we did not wear masks. There will never be a time when we do not wear masks.'

Another way in which Lewis has been prescient this year is with regards to this never-ending wave of riots and protests, particularly in America but in Britain and Europe as well to an extent. What especially concerns me is how these protests have often seemed to involve the desecration of churches and statues of Our Lord and the saints. I'm thinking especially of a statue of Our Lady which was recently decapitated in Canada. There have been plenty more statues which have met the same fate during the last few weeks. No-one has been hurt, defenders of this lunacy will say, but that's not the point. The symbolism, again, is everything, and this level of hatred and animosity is clearly a prelude to people getting hurt anyway.

On one level the whole thing seems completely bizarre and pointless. What responsibility does Christianity have for the death of George Floyd? None. But if we look at things from a demonic point of view it might be exactly this 'slippage' into attacks on Christian symbols that is the whole aim of the exercise. This is the direction, quite possibly - almost definitely,  I'm inclined to say - in which the situation is being guided.

When I look at the ongoing orgy of looting and destruction I'm reminded of the orgiastic frenzy surrounding the death of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:

'A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke... Everyone was at him (Aslan) now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage, and for a few minutes Susan and Lucy could not even see him - so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him.'

We begin to see now the pincer-movement which Satan has so far successfully deployed in 2020. Rudlof Steiner saw the exact nature of how this works, with what he called a Luciferic point of attack on one side - lustful, violent, furious - and an Ahrimanic assault on the other - cold, bureaucratic, soul-destroying. Ahriman is more powerful than Lucifer. The latter is the former's 'useful idiot' and serves, often unknowingly, to advance Ahriman's ends.

So there we are. This is exactly the current situation, and it seems to me that Lewis flagged both aspects up in his fiction. It is important for us to be aware of this. Our counter-attack (and there must and will be one) will have to take place first of all on the spiritual level and it needs to be based on, dare I say it, this objective assessment of where we are and who is pulling the strings and why.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

William Wildblood's Yeatsian Vision of the End


My ex-Albion Awakening colleague William Wildblood (that's not him above but W.B. Yeats) has written a scorching piece on his blog about the descent of the Western world into madness and shapeless anarchy. A phrase popped into my head as I was reading it - 'the veil of the temple was torn in two' - and I had the strong sense of masks (ironically) being pulled off and the writer coming face to face with the horror, vacuity and sheer ennui of the great collapse unfolding around us. What he is describing, with clarity and feeling, is nothing less than the end of the world, not like some 'fancy dan' aesthete musing on Wagner's Götterdämmerung, for example, but in the real-time manner of St. Augustine of Hippo (whose feast day falls this Friday) reflecting on the fall of the Roman Empire in his monumental and always-influential Civitas Dei

Here's the link and here's part of the first paragraph as a taster: 

'How long can you keep pointing out that humanity is on course for global civilisational collapse which is always what happens when the impetus that gave rise to a new culture has dissipated and there is no creative energy left? How many times can you say that when the spiritual world is denied as it is now human beings go literally, yes, quite literally mad and start engaging in self-destructive behaviour? Their minds descend into a kind of anarchic mess, antipathy for the other increases and the most mentally perverted become the most passionate in defending and promoting their perversions.' 

There is something very reminiscent to me of Yeats (1865-1939) in these words. One recalls, for instance, these famous lines from The Second Coming (1920): 

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. 

Yeats was one of a number of early to mid-twentieth century writers and thinkers who were fascinated by what they felt to be the imminent dissolution of our era and the emergence of a new and very different order in its wake. The French metaphysician René Guénon (1886-1951) is another name which springs to mind in this context. His cosmological oeuvre revolves around the ancient Hindu concept of succeeding ages (or Yugas in Sanskrit) - Gold to Silver to Bronze to Iron (or Dark), back to Gold again, and so on. Yeats calls them gyres, and while Guénon was certain that this current Dark Age (Kali Yuga) will soon cede place to a new Golden Age (Satya Yuga), Yeats, thanks largely to the last stanza of The Second Coming, has usually been seen as somewhat more ambivalent in his prognostications. 

He was totally unambivalent, however, in his denunciations of modernity and the type of individual post-Enlightenment conditions tend to breed. 'Scorn the sort now growing up,' he wrote in his last major poem, Under Ben Bulben (1939), 'All out of shape from toe to top.' Or these lines from The Statues (1938): 

We Irish, born into that ancient sect 
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide 
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked ... 

The 'rough beast' at the end of The Second Coming, who 'slouches off to Bethlehem to be born', seems to indicate that Yeats had grave forebodings not only about the present but about the future too that he did not share Guénon's faith in an inevitably returning Golden Age. But his thoughts on the matter are in reality much more complex. I'm over-simplifying things massively in this post and the place to go for a full exposition of Yeats's cosmology is his astonishing prose work, A Vision, first published in 1925. With this in mind, I would like to end this post with all three stanzas of another late Yeats poem, The Gyres (1936-37). Here we see a bold and confident vision of the age to come and a complete disregard - an insouciance and disdain even - for the death rattle of this one. The best this world could offer, as the poet knows, belonged to former times anyway. 'A greater, a more gracious age is gone,' as he says. But 'What matter? Heave no sigh, let no tear drop.' For 'Out of cavern comes a voice, and all it knows is that one word 'Rejoice!' 

I have been known this poem for a long time but up until very recently I would not have said that it has particularly informed or inspired me. I came across it again by chance in early May, I think, when looking for a quote from another Yeats poem - I forget which now - to include in an email to a friend. I would never have guessed that by August The Gyres would have become the most compelling and insistent poem in my life, my 'go to poem' if you like, for this discombobulating spring and summer we are living through. 

So why is this? To be honest, I think it's because the poem gives a 'two fingered salute' to the forces of disintegration and disorder which seem so dominant at the moment. Hope is too weak a word for what Yeats conveys here. There's a real strength and vitality imbued in these lines, a spiritual swagger, which has been in short supply, to be honest, too often for too long in too many mainstream churches. It isn't faith either - that's too tepid again. What we're talking about is a deep Platonic mystery, a rock-like certainty, and a sure and hard-earned knowledge of how aeons come and go and how time and eternity interact. 

No pearl clutching here then. No laments for the way things used to be. Yeats doesn't give a fig for 'all our yesterdays.' Nor is he cowed by the darkness rampaging everywhere, blotting out the light wherever it can. He has no time or respect for it. It's irrelevant to him. Kids stuff. Not worth bothering about. Not when the world is about to be regenerated. No way.

This led me to reflect that maybe the 'beast' of The Second Coming is only 'rough' and slouching because our age (which is 'perishing' anyway as St. Paul reminds us) has become so degenerate and effete - 'all out of shape from toe to top' - that a necessary purging and renewal can only appear to us as something threatening and unwelcome - 'bestial', in short. Because what Yeats foresees in The Gyres is not at all the hegemony of savages, but actually it's opposite - the return of archetypal, primal human types, men and women who, you might say, have the mark of reality stamped upon their foreheads, individuals who have been and continue to be marginalised under the current, decaying dispensation. They are symbolised in the poem by the figures of the horseman, the lover, the workman, the noble and the saint - the kind of company we would all like to keep, if we're honest, and maybe the kind of person, in one form or another, we would all like to be if only the world hadn't gone off the rails so much and was now orbiting away at a million miles an hour from anything true and real, whether in Heaven or on Earth. 

These figures will come again. Yeats had no doubt. And this will be so because they incarnate and embody reality and truth, and reality and truth always have the last word. Their coming may be closer than we think. And the world of falsehood and illusion will not be able to withstand them. Babylon will sink into the sea and the princes of this world will weep and mourn and hide beneath the mountains, but we will stand with Yeats and those 'sages standing in God's holy fire' he evoked in Sailing to Byzantium (1928) and shout out loud for everyone to hear, 'Babylon has fallen. What matter? Rejoice! Rejoice!' 

'Why should not old men be mad?' as he asked in another poem. There is madness in The Gyres indeed, but it is a madness that exalts us and leads us on, as Beatrice led on Dante, up to the realm of the gods. This lies at the antipodes of the madness William describes in his piece, which dismembers us spiritually, drags us down and makes us fodder for demons. The madness of The Gyres is the madness which heals. It is the madness which saves. It is the madness we need ... 

The gyres! The gyres! Old Rocky Face, look forth; 
Things thought too long can be no longer thought, 
For beauty dies of beauty, worth of worth, 
And ancient lineaments are blotted out. 
Irrational streams of blood are staining earth; 
Empedocles has thrown all things about; 
Hector is dead and there's a light in Troy; 
We that look on but laugh in tragic joy. 

What matter though numb nightmare ride on top, 
And blood and mire the sensitive body stain? 
What matter? Heave no sigh, let no tear drop, 
A greater, a more gracious time has gone; 
For painted forms or boxes of make-up 
In ancient tombs I sighed, but not again; 
What matter? Out of cavern comes a voice, 
And all it knows is that one word 'Rejoice!' 

Conduct and work grow coarse, and coarse the soul, 
What matter? Those that Rocky Face holds dear, 
Lovers of horsemen and of women, shall, 
From marble of a broken sepulchre, 
Or dark betwixt the polecat and the owl, 
Or any rich, dark nothing disinter 
The workman, noble and saint, and all things run 
On that unfashionable gyre again.