Group One.APSI.2009.Literature and Composition

Group 1
Kara Semento (allusion)
Rita Williams (symbolism)
Deborah Van Pelt (diction)
Francine Locker (Intro/Conclusion)
The Second Coming
By William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand;
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
In Yeats ”The Second Coming,” the author uses several literary devises such as symbolism,
allusion, and diction to construct a vision of a coming era in which the old order of Christianity is
being replaced.
Yeats alludes to the Second Coming of Christ as it is separated twice in the second stanza.
Throughout the poem, an obvious reference is made to the Biblical Book of Revelation, “surely some
revelation is at hand.” However, Yeats describes the second coming as a dark force with a frightening
and dangerous purpose. Yeats alludes to the Biblical idea of the second coming to demonstrate that
something is coming and will change the world, just as Christ transformed the world upon his
The “Spiritus Mundi,” which is Latin for “Spirit of the world,” is a reference to Yeats’ belief
that each human mind is linked to a single vast intelligence, and that this intelligence causes certain
universal symbols to appear in individual minds. Carl Jung’s book The Psychology of the Unconscious,
published in 1912, could have had an influence, with its idea of the collective unconscious. The line “A
shape with lion body and the head of a man” is an allusion to the sphinx. The image of the second
coming is of a “rough beast” which has the head-intellect of a man and the fierce emotions and body
intelligence of a beast. The Christ figure of the second coming, “A shape with lion body and the head
of a man,” is an image from ancient Egypt.
The widening gyre” symbolizes Yeats belief that the previous historical era is coming to a
close, and another era is likely beginning. As the falcon is released by the falconer, he flies around and
around (“turning and turning”) in a cyclical pattern much like the recurring nature of historical eras.
But Yeats says” the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” an indication that mankind is eschewing the
order. Another bird is mentioned later in the poem, “the indignant bird,” whose shadow is heralding
the coming new age. In addition, Yeats’ diction helps to underscore the theme of loss of control, of
uncertainty, of a vortex without a bottom. The repetition of the word “turning” in the first line of the
poem evokes a sense of spinning, like a child whirling round and round in an effort to fall down. Yeats
continues this repetitive device in lines 4 and 5 (“loosed”) and in lines 9 and 10 (“surely”); these
repetitions accent the poet’s tone of pleading for someone – anyone – to listen to his dark prediction
and hopefully take action. Moreover, in lines 10 and 11, Yeats repeats “the Second Coming” to
emphasize that the Christian era will soon be replaced with another, albeit an unknown, monolith. The
poet also employs an oxymoronic or antithetical device – “mere anarchy” – to highlight the
cataclysmic event that looms on the horizon. In lines 12-22, Yeats chooses words that contain an “S”
sound, such as “Spiritus,” “sight,” “somewhere,” “sands,” “shape,” “pitiless as the sun,” “slow thighs,”
“darkness drops,” and “stony sleep.” The alliteration and consonance used throughout these lines
conjure the image of a serpent ready to strike, which can perhaps be read as an unstated Biblical
allusion to the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. Man fell once, twenty centuries ago; now, after the
ravages of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Man falls for a second time. Indeed,
Yeats’ diction is so powerful that Chinua Achebe titled his African novel, Things Fall Apart, after a
line in the poem.