The Center Will Not Hold If It Has Been Spot-Welded by an Operator Whose Deepest Concern Is His Lottery Ticket

Donald Barthelme? William Butler Yeats?

Dear Quote Investigator: A poet once proclaimed with despair that the center cannot hold. The postmodern storyteller Donald Barthelme quipped that the center would not hold if it was welded together by a distracted worker. Would you please help me to find a citation. Also, I cannot recall the name of the poet. Can you help?

Quote Investigator: Donald Barthelme’s short story “At The End Of The Mechanical Age” appeared in the 1981 collection “Sixty Stories”. The following line was included. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

The center will not hold if it has been spot-welded by an operator whose deepest concern is not with the weld but with his lottery ticket.

Below is one additional citation and a conclusion.

In 1920 prominent Irish poet William Butler Yeats published the poem “The Second Coming”, and the third line of the first section presented the pertinent saying: 2

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,

In conclusion, Donald Barthelme’s line was probably a comical response to the line within W. B. Yeats poem about recurring civilizational collapse.

Image Notes: Public domain image of a starburst pattern from pinwhalestock at Pixabay.


  1. 1982 (1981 Copyright), Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme, Short Story: At The End Of The Mechanical Age, Start Page 272, Quote Page 278, Dutton, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1920 November, The Dial, Article Title: Ten Poems, Poem: The Second Coming, Author: William Butler Yeats, Quote Page 466, The Dial Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link