The Second Coming

The Second Coming
By W. B. Yeats
Historical Context
The poem was written in 1919 and published in
What historical factors may influence his writing
at this point?
• First World War had just ended
• Not long since the Russian Revolution
• Not long since the Easter Rising
What associations do you have with the phrase
“The Second Coming”?
• In Christian doctrine, the Second Coming of
Christ, is the anticipated return of Jesus Christ
from Heaven, where he sits at the Right Hand of
God, to Earth.
• Christians generally believe the anticipated event
is predicted in Biblical Messianic prophecy. Views
about the nature of Jesus' Second Coming vary
among Christian denominations and sometimes
among individual Christians within these
Read the Poem
• Complete the Quotation sheet to help you
begin to understand the poem.
What is Yeats referring to with his “Second
• The poem is a prophesy about the birth of a
new era of history characterised by the ‘rough
• This refers to a spinning circular motion made by
a cone, forming a spiralling vortex.
• It is an important symbol in the poet’s system,
used to explain both human behaviour and
patterns of history.
• Broadly the point at which one vortex spins out
of control is also the point where a new one
begins to spin into existence.
• For Yeats, the shift between the two is inevitably
sudden and violent, like a “lightning flash”
Yeats’ Vision
• The word “gyre” in the poem's first line may be used in a sense drawn
from Yeats's book “A Vision”, which sets out a theory of history and
metaphysics Yeats claimed to have received from spirits.
• The theory of history articulated in “A Vision” centres on a diagram
composed of two conic helixes ("gyres"), overlapping each other, so that
the widest part of one cone occupies the same plane as the tip of the
other cone, and vice versa. Yeats claimed that this image captured
contrary motions inherent within the process of history, and he divided
each gyre into different regions that represented particular kinds of
historical periods (and could also represent the psychological phases of an
individual's development).
• Yeats believed that in 1921 the world was on the threshold of an
apocalyptic moment, as history reached the end of the outer gyre and
began moving along the inner gyre.