I first read Yeats’s “The Second Coming” in my third year of university. It was a modern poetry class, I think, taught by a teacher I didn’t like enough or hate enough to remember by name. I know we read a disproportionately large amount of Elizabeth Bishop, and a lot of mediocre Canadian poetry, and that I never said a single voluntary word for the six or eight weeks that the course lasted. Other than that, it’s a huge blank in my memory, as so many unpleasant things are. I mastered the art of losing a very long time ago.
The takeaway of that class was Yeats, and “The Second Coming,” and the line “Things fall apart” – a phrase so viscerally powerful that it kind of blows the mind when you start to think about it. (Chinua Achebe later used it as the title of his excellent novel.) Have you read “The Second Coming” lately? It’s here, if you need to remind yourself and your Norton Anthology is currently being used to prop up an uneven table. We won’t discuss the rest of the poem and we definitely won’t touch that creepy second stanza. Just that tiny fragment of a line.
Third line. First three words. Things fall apart. Christ, just look at that. Three words to express the single unifying truth of human existence, maybe. A gut-punching spondee followed by that heartbeat of an iamb. Things. Fall. Apart. Perfect. Fucking perfect Too perfect. It has planted itself in my subconscious and snaked its roots somewhere deep inside me. I find myself repeating the phrase to myself all the time, usually without even realizing it. Sometimes out loud, sometimes silently. Things fall apart, things fall apart, things fall apart. My accidental mantra.
It’s in my head right now, turning over and over like an engine trying to start. Or maybe I should say “turning and turning in the widening gyre” like the poor lost falcon in the poem (take that, forgotten professor who gave me a B+, you bastard). Things fall apart, I tell myself, as I claw my way out of 2016’s first major breakdown. Unemployed again, laughably broke, Australia jerked out of my admittedly reluctant grip. Things fall apart. Boy, do they fucking ever.
You’d think it would be depressing to repeat that phrase. It sounds grim and pessimistic. It’s a phrase describing if not destruction, at least some sort of deconstruction. But I’ve never read it like that. To me, it means that endings and, by extension, failures are inevitable. The idea that everything is impermanent is older than Yeats – ancient, in fact – and I’m not even going to try apply a Buddhist reading of Yeats’s apocalyptic poem (although I may stuff that in the old ‘potential-topics-for-a-revenge-PhD’ brain file). I’m just saying that if every thing must fall apart, so be it. All right, so good things – and bad things, too – will end. What comes next?
Fucking put that shit back together. Or better yet, build something new from the wreckage. Creation from destruction. And when those new things fall apart, do it all again, and again, and again. Same thing. Turn it into an ouroboros. Success born of a failure of a success, fueled by stubbornness and resilience and a furious refusal to be beaten.
What I’m trying to say in this messy, unplanned pep-talk I’m giving myself on a rough, rainy night eight days into what I’m still going to believe is My Year, is that, yeah, things fall apart. Sometimes it sucks, like when it’s a job or a relationship or an antipodean pipe dream. Mourn the ending. Wallow. Wallow long and hard. And then shrug it off. Life is messy. There are peaks and there are troughs. Accept it. Welcome it. Chin up. Because the next thing that falls apart will be the shitty time you’re suffering through right now. The shadow is only a small and passing thing. It will fall apart, too.
And fuck Australia, anyway. Too much sun.
P.S. That was some heavy stuff, and still no book review. Oops. Here, have a picture of Titus. He is in Deep Thought.