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Sloughing toward Bethlehem

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on June 27, 2007

In Reply to: Sloughing toward Bethlehem posted by Gloria Duarte on June 27, 2007

: What does "sloughing toward Bethlehem" mean?

It' "slouching towards Bethlehem". ("Sloughing" means "shedding one's skin, as of a snake", which would give you a very different phrase.) It's a quotation from a poem by W B Yeats, called "The Second Coming", and was also used in the 1970s as the title of a collection of essays by Joan Didion on the state of American life.

Here's the poem:

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 Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
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
Reel 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?