The Second Coming By W. B. Yeats Historical Context The poem was written in 1919 and published in 1920. 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 denominations. Read the Poem • Complete the Quotation sheet to help you begin to understand the poem. What is Yeats referring to with his “Second Coming”? • The poem is a prophesy about the birth of a new era of history characterised by the ‘rough beast’. Gyre • 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” Gyre 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.