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It’s William Butler Yeats, stupid

By Harriet Staff

As economists continue to tend toward sunny optimism in the face of collapse, the Wall Street Journal notes that finding appropriate doom-laden references within the field are few and far between. When confronted with losing their economic independence, the Irish Parliament looked to poetry for the answers instead:

To illustrate their point, they turned to W.B. Yeats, the poet who chronicled the resurgence and ultimate triumph of Irish nationalism in the early twentieth century.

One Irish lawmaker quoted from “September 1913″:

“Was it for this the wild geese spread

The grey wing upon every tide;

For this that all that blood was shed,

For this Edward Fitzgerald died,

And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,

All that delirium of the brave?

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

The wild geese were Irish soldiers who left to fight for European armies following their defeat by Britain at the end of the seventeenth century, their logic being that if you couldn’t fight for independence at home, you should go and find somewhere else where you can fight for it. The other figures mentioned were leaders of various failed rebellions.

Another Yeats poem — “The Second Coming” — was also cited.

“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.”

And when even doom won’t cut it, there’s always the absurdity of Lewis Carroll to draw upon, as another parliamentarian did when raising the specter of high interest rates: “With the world turning against her, the Red Queen has to run very fast to keep still, the lawmaker intoned.”

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, November 19th, 2010 by Harriet Staff.