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Yeats’s powerful poem is thought to have emerged out of the slaughter of the First World War. Some, however, see in it things yet to come. It is a poem that has often been selectively quoted at moments of crisis in Irish politics, although argument still continues as to the exact meaning of phrases such as "the ceremony of innocence is drowned" or "the centre cannot hold". Yet those phrases, and many others in the poem, strike a target deep in the Irish psyche. The composer has always been deeply affect by the last line…"slouches to Bethlehem to be born."
It seemed appropriate to him at this time, when millenarianism is on the rise, and as the poem emerges into the public domain, to set down his musical thoughts in the matter, including a distorted quotation of a phrase from the traditional carol, ’O Little Town of Bethlehem’. The atmosphere is of building tension and fear, and the piece is probably more suited to a larger chamber choir. There may be a case for assigning the upper Soprano line to a soloist.
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