In "The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats, the speaker asserts that the best people "lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." How does this statement apply to the speakers in "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" by Yeats and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot? What characteristics of the modern world make it difficult, if not impossible, to be heroic in the traditional sense?

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One way to answer this provocative question is to see this within the crisis of faith that permeates Modernism. Institutions such as church and state were deeply compromised in this era and the strong claims for truth and justice they espoused seen as empty. Certainly for Yeats, the Irish Catholic Church—but also Anglicanism—held less force, despite Yeats being a spiritual thinker. Eliot, too, changed religions, becoming Catholic in part because of its tradition of rationalism and deep traditions. Nationalism and colonialism were creating obvious problems of credibility. War in Europe and elsewhere exposed the failure of states and the propaganda that partially maintained their legitimacy.

For Yeats, then, the best people can to see these flaws of intellect and of ethics and of courage and to deeply suspect strong arguments for any particular view. Like Prufrock, the best of this Modern period seemed to lack a sense of authority untainted by the errors that had created the crises...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 1135 words.)

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