Sunday, April 29, 2012

Widening Gyre

Speaking of inexpressiblely difficult impressions, experiences, and realities, humanity manages to express them in the poetic vein by using simple words in the right context to suggest a meaning—and hearing that suggestion, the heart nods and understands. Thus for instance:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
     [William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”]

What is it that that “center” cannot hold? We know exactly what Yeats meant, but analysis does not yield much more than paradoxical results. Does the center really hold—anything? Not in a geometrical sense. That “widening gyre” suggests, perhaps someone turning rapidly in place and, on a rope, extended by that figure’s whirling, a heavy object flies through the air. The turning figure is the center, then, and the force is so great that the fist unballs, the knuckles white, the rope slips over skin. And what is it the center holds? Well, all right. It is the falcon. The falconer holds it by some mysterious force—a relationship of unity. When that invisible something is present, the flacon knows to return to the fist. But whose fault is it that the falcon flies away; is it something in the falconer, or is it in the falcon’s mind? At the center—an idea. Has it lost its power of attraction—or have the flying pieces lost their grasp of it? Or is the problem really in some third element in this poetic equation, the force itself, which gets no mention? Has it changed polarity? And what is it that those “things” are seeking? Is separation something superior?

Yes. It’s true. We know what Yeats meant when he wrote the words. Something in us responds. Is that because we still, as it were, see the falconer as we glide high on rising currents in the mysterious air that has no name?

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