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A TERRIBLE BEAUTY IS BORN
March 3, 2004
 
For them, this is like if it happened in the Vatican on Good Friday, a commentator said of the massacre of Shi'a Muslims in Iraq. 140 people killed over this past weekend, maybe more, in carefully timed suicide missions in many mosques at once.

We are always shocked when violence enters the sanctuary. But it's a frequent visitor there. Religious places, holy days: the 1994 Hebron Massacre happened at a mosque during Ramadan prayers. The 1916 Rising was on a fine Irish Easter Day. European Jewry used to dread the coming of Holy Week: always, it meant Jews would be attacked in some village, somewhere. People just stayed indoors until it was over.

Sanctuary. In the early Middle Ages you were safe in a church if you were touching the altar. There was a special seat, called the frith stool, near enough to the altar that a fugitive could grab hold of the table if the law happened by. This worked unless your offense was sacrilege or high treason, for which all bets were off, which is why Thomas Becket's murder may have seemed reasonable to his assassins.

Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered in the act of saying Mass. In the Raul Julia film, it's at the moment of elevating the chalice -- the wine spills over him, mingling with his heart's blood. Becket wasn't saying Mass; he was simply at prayer in his cathedral. Or maybe he wasn't even at prayer -- there has been too much legend, for too long, for us to know what really happened. One of the largest mass murders in the Rwandan conflict happened in a church. Everyone inside died.

And Jesus -- a Jew -- was killed at the time of the Passover.

Have a nice holiday, people say to one another as they part. Merry Christmas, Shabbat Shalom, Happy Easter. Are you cooking at home, we ask, or are you visiting family? What are you having for dinner? Can I bring something?

I just love the holidays, people say. I get so excited, even now, even though I'm all grown up. I'm in the kitchen before dawn, just like my mother used to be. But some people don't love the holidays. They plan terrible evil instead. And some take a stand and die for it. And some people remember a feast day on which everything went wrong, all at once, terribly wrong, and when the smoke cleared everything had changed.

+
Easter 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
--William Butler Yates
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
---William Butler Yates
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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