Easter, 2020: Is This What Trump Wants?

Plague HospitalThe original to this parody was a look back at a real Easter intentional disaster, in Ireland in 1916, the Easter Rising that led to killings and then executions by the British. I don’t want to trivialize that, but a new “terrible beauty” could be born this Easter if we refuse to give human lives primacy over the merchantile economy–as Donald Trump and quite a few others want us to do. William Butler Yeats’ poem “Easter, 1916” is among his masterpieces and remains one of the great poems of the last century. In it, he celebrates the dead of the Rising.

We face enough with the million or more deaths COVID-19 could cause in the United States alone over the next weeks and months–but we have the riches to withstand it. The idea that there remain among us many who place avarice over life is infuriating, which brings me back to the fury Yeats expressed and gives me the desire to bring his poem forward, though in a context completely alien to his original compositon.

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among bright
Twenty-first-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the table at Starbucks,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

 

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She worked for Conde Nast?
This man had taught at school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The car that comes from the road,
The driver, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A car’s wheel slides on the brim,
And a tire plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For Washington may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
McNally and Romain
And Dibango and Goma
Now and in time to be,
Whatever colors are worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

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