Rough Beasts

Well hello there everyone. Happy New Year! My holiday break is almost over and I spent an inordinate bulk of it curled up in bed under the covers, wrestling with anxiety and insomnia. If that strikes you as a symptom of depressive behavior you’d be correct. Sure I could ascribe it to the “holiday blues” syndrome, which I’m told is a legitimate thing, or I could just be honest and acknowledge that I’m prone to this disorder, and have been for some time. So forgive me if I don’t offer a blog post bursting with good cheer, high hopes, and sanguine sentiments for the new year. However, you have my word that I’ll soon shake off this gloom and doom weepy dark cloud, or the “black dog” as Winston Churchill called it.

What’s interesting to me is how fear, anxiety, and disaffection have been potent catalysts for creative expression throughout history. While joyous, uplifting works of art are certainly among the greatest, most memorable of all time (Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is a prime example), the ominous, and at times alarming, works of expression are compelling in a much different way. And just as memorable.

I’ve stated before on this blog that William Butler Yeats is one of my favorite poets. I’ve featured him here, here, and here and I’m going to feature him again right now. This very well-known Yeats poem is one that I find apropos with regard to the world right now. Here is 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?

I came across an excellent essay in The Paris Review which describes The Second Coming as “the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English”. It discusses the remarkable scope of references to the poem in pop culture and the arts, ranging from rock bands, comic books, artists and writers .. all of whom could not resist appropriating Yeats’s haunting and evocative turns of phrases. Who can blame them? The man was absolutely brilliant. Think about what he communicates with the imagery of  “the falcon cannot hear the falconer”. Here’s a paragraph from the Paris Review piece:

Yeats began writing the poem in January 1919, in the wake of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and political turmoil in his native Ireland. But the first stanza captures more than just political unrest and violence. Its anxiety concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them.

George Frederic Watts, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Rider on the Black Horse, 1878:

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

18 thoughts on “Rough Beasts

  1. scultore says:

    Happy New Year Claudia! and I sympathize with you, being a fellow sufferer. Great poem , Yeats is a great one

    • artmodel says:

      Bruce, thanks! And Happy New Year to you! Your sympathy is much appreciated.

      I missed you at Minerva’s reception, but hope to see you there very soon 🙂


  2. Bill says:

    I agree with you — both in your assessment of Yeats and your recognition of the “blues” as being the source of much of our best creative expression. But still, the price is just too high for me to pay. I just don’t want to see you go there — life is just too short.

    For sub-clinical depression, my prescription is humor. I suggest Youtube as a source. Have you seen this one?

    Continue treatment for 5-6 hours.

    • artmodel says:


      Funny, thank you! Usually it’s Rickles who does the ball-busting. I wonder whatever happened with Johnny’s cigarette box? I think he was genuinely pissed about it!


  3. astronautonearth4 says:

    You’re right about most of the best works stemming from sadness. I think A lot of mine definitely do. Great things are hard to make if you have no emotion to pull from.

    • artmodel says:


      Yes, I agree. It could have something to do with sadness forcing us to think deeper about things, and be more contemplative. When depression is strong, though, being motivated and inspired is much tougher.

      Thanks for your comments!


  4. Therese beck says:

    Wish you all the best – get well for this new year.

  5. rob says:

    Aw…wish you well!! I used to think that the creative nexus with depression was a dividend, if it exists. The nexus might be there in the sense that many creative individuals suffer it. But maybe depressives have other qualities more closely related to creativity? I think sensitivity and intelligence have more to do with it. Have to read some Yeats; stuck on Camus. If you want to write about it, please do. You offered once. 🙂

    • artmodel says:


      It surely can’t be a coincidence that many creative types have had depressive personalities too. Also quite a few political figures: Churchill who I mentioned above, and also Abraham Lincoln. Strong figures, which makes one feel that the tenacity to solider on through the darkness can be done.

      You definitely must read more Yeats, and I’ll read more Camus 😉

      Hope you had a wonderful holiday. Thanks for commenting!


  6. Todd from Kentucky says:

    You must be depressed . . . you, of all people, didn’t connect your reference to “black dog” to Led Zeppelin! Dammit, i’ll do it for you . . . I hope this gets you going . . .

  7. Derek says:

    happy new year luv I hear your employer got a new place from what I read. id true congrats to her but here is something to cheer you up
    a little getting the old led up
    I feel old talking about my favorite band

    • artmodel says:


      This is why I have the best readers! I share my depression and you guys offer me Led Zeppelin as an antidote. I like it! And I’ve always liked “Celebration Day”. Thanks for the video, friend.

      And yes, Minerva Durham is all moved into her new drawing studio space here in NYC. I’m going to post all about it soon. Just waiting for some photos.

      Happy New Year, Derek! Hope you are well.


  8. johndrob says:

    Since Led Zeppelin has already been covered, how about classical guitar pyrotechnics (no, that’s not an oxymoron) from the Japanese guitarist Kazuhito Yamashita, whom staid classical music critics lambasted for transcribing and playing orchestral works on the guitar (including Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition). Here he is playing “La boda de Luis Alonso”, taken from a zarzuela by Gerónimo Giménez – you’ll swear that Yamashita has a few extra fingers; and how does he change his tuning on the fly? (If the embedded link doesn’t go directly to that song, jus fast forward to 41:55.)

    • artmodel says:


      That was extraordinary. He’s an incredible musician! I’m not surprised he got lambasted by the classical music establishment as they can be, like you said, a starchy bunch. I’m interested to hear his Firebird Suite. Will search for it.

      Thanks so much for sharing this! And classical guitar of any kind is always welcome here on Museworthy. Woke up today to the news that the great Pierre Boulez has died. What a tremendous loss.


      • johndrob says:

        Couldn’t find a video online, but you can listen to it in sections here. I have it on a CD along with him playing Dvorak’s New World Symphony – that was the only Yamashita CD that Tower Records carried at the time. I was able to buy a few of his other CDs from a shop in Japan, in the early days of email.

        And just to further show that classical guitar music can indeed be fun, here’s the late Narciso Yepes on the ten-string guitar playing “Passepied”, which Salvador Bacarisse wrote for him and threw in just about everything but a cowbell.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I love the poem and the accompanying image – hoping that things will improve for you. Take good care. xx

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