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The Poetry And Philosophy Of Troubled Times45:44
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The great poets and philosophers on life in time of turmoil. Former poet Laureate Billy Collins is with us.

A Police dog and its handler walk past a burning car during the second night of civil disturbances in central Birmingham, England, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011. (AP)
A Police dog and its handler walk past a burning car during the second night of civil disturbances in central Birmingham, England, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011. (AP)

“Things fall apart,” wrote Yeats, the great Irish poet. “The center cannot hold… The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Things falling apart is certainly the feeling in the air lately. Downgrade, roller coaster, riot and unease. The sense of old orders, certainties, crumbling. Passing. Of dangerous passions afoot.

We talk about the politics. The economics. But what do the poets and philosophers tell us about times like these?

This hour On Point: we’ll ask poet laureate Billy Collins and philosopher Seyla Benhabib. We’re looking for wisdom.
-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Billy Collins, a poet and professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York. He is a former Poet Laureate.

Seyla Benhabib, philosopher and professor of political science and philosophy at Yale University.

Readings

READING 1: “ON BEING ASKED FOR A WAR POEM” by W. B. Yeats

DESCRIPTION: In 1915, when Henry James asked W. B. Yeats to write a political poem about World War I, Yeats shocked his friend with his response in the piece, “On being asked for a War Poem.”

READING 2: “THE SECOND COMING” by W. B. Yeats

DESCRIPTION: In 1919, during the aftermath of the First World War and the Irish Rebellion, W. B. Yeats wrote “The Second Coming,” one of his most famous works. Here, Yeats paints the picture of grim apocalypse in the worst of times

READING 3: “THE DARKLING THRUSH” by Thomas Hardy

DESCRIPTION: Written on the eve of the twentieth century by the British wordsmith Thomas Hardy, “The Darkling Thrush” – originally called “By the Century’s Deathbed” – looked for a glimmer of hope in the end of an era

READING 4: “THE NIAGARA RIVER” by Kay Ryan

DESCRIPTION: The work “The Niagara River” by the contemporary poet Kay Ryan, made starling connections with the general malaise of the world around her and the looming danger in the powerful fallsREADING 5: “HOME TO ROOST” by Kay Ryan

DESCRIPTION: In 2005, Former US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan published this piece, capturing an ominous mood with a darkly hilarious twist – chickens

READING 6: “THE FUTURE” by Billy Collins

DESCRIPTION: Published in the 2008 collection of poems, “Ballistics,” my guest Billy Collins shared his words – his concerns – for what’s ahead of us all in, “The Future”

This program aired on August 12, 2011.

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