In rediscovering this poem, I am compelled to ask if anyone believes that the poem has more relevancy or less relevancy to the modern setting? For my own viewpoint, I believe that this poem is more strong today than in the past. I think there are so many situations that have illuminated themselves of "the worst are filled with passionate intensity while the best lack all conviction." I examine this and immediately think of dogmatic thinkers who assume facades and pretenses in order to advance an ulterior and sinister agenda. I guess I read the end of the poem and find more poignancy and melancholy than anything else. Are we still "slouching" and "waiting to be born"? I am going to open the year with the poem in American History from the Progressives on and refer back to it as an ongoing metaphor. I think it still speaks in this setting.
I think if we look at recent history this excellent poem from Yeats only seems to be more and more relevant. When I think about recent events from the last couple of decades I think of the Rwandan Genocide, the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, the dictatorship of Mugabe in Zimbabwe and a whole catalogue of other disasters. Is it just me being pessimistic, or as humanity advances do we just seem to create the conditions necessary for ever greater tides of bloodshed to be unleashed?
I agree with your notion that the poem is distubring, when read again and in the modern setting. I am more inclined to be scared of the closing ideas of "waiting" to be born. I think this concept of "waiting" might be as terrifying as the "conviction" held by "the best."
I just re-read this poem again--several times, actually--and each time it seemed more disturbing. It was written after World War I, but it might as well have been written last year, last month, last week, or yesterday. The sense of the poem as I read it is of something very evil, very terrible and foreboding moving toward us, while we are unable, unwilling, and far too unwise to recognize our approaching fate. Wow. If that premise is correct, what that "second coming" might be is enough to keep a person awake all night, every night.
I agree with you, akannan, that the lines you quoted about "the worst" and "the best," unfortunately, do have a very contemporary ring to them. I suppose the determination of who is "the worst" and who is "the best" would depend upon the social/political/philosophical views of the one who is doing the determining, but "sinister" agendas (great word you used there) seem to abound all around us. This is depressing.