I am rereading Yeats' "Easter 1916" along with a commentary on it, and thinking about how the words "terrible beauty" came to mind looking at the ruins of the Twin Towers and video of 9/11. The fascination people ("we") feel, replaying the event mentally, our total recall years later of where we were when, the promptness with which pretty much everyone can remember and recount "their" 9/11. What's the compulsion to say "I was there'?
Here's what Langdon Hammer has to say about "Easter 1916" in a Yale University lecture I happened upon:
"How can something be changed utterly? [...] I said that Yeats looks on the modern with a sense of both horror and a fascination, a compulsion almost. Well, it's a "terrible beauty" he sees that draws him in this way. He sees, specifically, the passion of the revolutionary's act and he finds it beautiful. Yeats aestheticizes their political action. He finds beauty in it, it seems even or especially because it is terror-filled... ".
No one could write a poem like "Easter 1916" or even Auden's "September 1, 1939" today. Not using that tone. Many more layers of irony--and a different kind of irony from either Yeats's or Auden's--are required. You'd have to examine much more closely, and more skeptically, our fascination with the terror and the beauty, the passion of people ready to die for what they believe. Yeats believes in heroes, even as he questions his own admiration and their actions; Auden knowingly left his shield on the battlefield and writes about that, and then later, tellingly, about "The Shield of Achilles." Zbigniew Herbert, whose position and language I feel sympathy for, in "Five Men" shows us prisoners the night before they are to be shot, talking about "an escapade in a brothel / of automobile parts /...how vodka is best / after wine you get a headache...":
two of them very young
the others middle-aged
can be said about them
Yeats and Auden, like Paul Muldoon, are virtuoso writers of verse. Herbert has another esthetic--Herbert couldn't have written the poems he wrote using the vision and highly-wrought language of Yeats, Auden or Muldoon. Beckett had to bar that language too. Where am I going with this?