The Second Coming

Last night, the great African writer Chinua Achebe passed away in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 82 years old. Up until his death, he was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in the United States.

Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe has a special place in Jamaicans’ hearts – largely because of his famous 1958 novel of colonialism, Things Fall Apart,” which sold eight million copies globally and was translated into fifty languages. The book was prescribed reading in Jamaican high schools (I think it might still be on the book list) and so many are familiar with it.

A certain Jamaican radio talk show host, the late Wilmot “Mutty” Perkins, was also closely associated with this phrase. Mr. Perkins had a jaundiced view of Jamaican society and politics, and regularly indulged in gloomy and pessimistic monologues. He would often preface (or end) these by intoning the words, “Things fall apart…” 

Some Jamaicans thought he was quoting Chinua Achebe. In fact, the great novelist took the line from a powerful poem by W.B. Yeats, written in 1919. World War I had just ended, leaving over nine million young men dead, and nations sunk into exhaustion and hopelessness at the futility of it all. Between the two world wars, there was a growing sense of foreboding, of dark clouds gathering. This feeling of dread permeates much of Europe’s literature during this period. JRR Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” actually fought in World War I (in the bloody Battle of the Somme, which claimed the lives of over 1,300,000 men. Yes, 1.3 million). This poem was written in the shadow of the horror that had just ended.

If “Mutty” had the time and inclination during his radio show, he would recite the poem in its chilling entirety. As for me, I have a vivid mental picture of that “rough beast.”

 

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?

 

Irish poet W.B. Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He died, ironically and sadly, in the very year that saw the outbreak of World War II. This photograph was taken by George Charles Bereford in 1911.
Irish poet W.B. Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He died, ironically and sadly, in the very year that saw the outbreak of World War II. This photograph was taken by George Charles Bereford in 1911.

Related articles:

I wrote about Chinua Achebe’s memoirs,There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, published in October of last year. The book reopened some old wounds in Nigeria – the wounds of the Biafran civil war (1967-70). Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote poignantly about Achebe in a fascinating article published in Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper; both her and Achebe are from Biafra, the home of the mostly Igbo people. Here is the link from my blog: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/african-postman-we-remember-differently/ You can also read my review of one of Adichie’s novels on Biafra among my book reviews at the top of this page.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/23/world/africa/chinua-achebe-nigerian-writer-dies-at-82.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0 Chinua Achebe, African literary titan, dies at 82: New York Times

https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/african-postman-fifty-years-of-the-african-writers-series/ African Postman: Fifty Years of the African Writers Series: petchary.wordpress.com

 

 

The incorrigible Wilmot "Mutty" Perkins on the air. He died just over a year ago and I do miss him - both his gloom and doom, and his occasional infectious laughter.
The incorrigible Wilmot “Mutty” Perkins on the air. He died just over a year ago and I do miss him – both his gloom and doom, and his occasional infectious laughter.

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