Yeats and the Sense of an Ending

Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man’s life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality…

— W. B. Yeats

Frank Kermode (1919 – 2010) was a prominent English literary critic known for his profound contributions to the field of literary theory and criticism.

In his thought-provoking book, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, Kermode takes on the idea that fiction often reflects deep-seated cultural and philosophical concerns about time, apocalypse, and the ultimate meaning of life. He discusses how literary works from different periods respond to these themes, and how endings in narratives help to provide a sense of understanding and resolution.

In the words of one NY Times critic, “Kermode argues that our apocalyptic views of disorder, of crisis, and perpetual transition in the contemporary world are contemporary ways of making sense of the world, of giving it an intelligible order.”

Below is a passage from his work in which he discusses “the end of a century” and how Yeats, whom he deems an apocalyptic poet, saw the impending horror, trepidation, and decadence that inevitably takes hold during a time of rapid transition. It’s how we try to give some “order and design” to the past, present, and future.

In the words of William Blake: “…the Last Judgement begins, and its Vision is Seen by the Imaginative Eye of Every one according to the situation he holds.”

It’s all so relevant still today. I hope you enjoy it.

More here.