Yeats The Second Coming

The Second Coming (1919)
Published in ‘Michael Robartes and
the Dancer’ (1921)
1917 onwards – A new phase for Yeats
• After anger and disillusion of ‘Wild
Swans...’ Yeats enters a new phase,
experimenting with myths, global issues
beyond Ireland, symbolism, the nature of
art and of course, automatic writing.
• In a nutshell, Yeats is going BIG!
• He is also getting older, so expect
(particularly post 1924) reflections on age,
death and some rage and disillusion.
• In MY learned opinion, Yeats’ later poems
are the best; his persistent attention to
the dialectic within himself and his
exploration of the role of the poet makes
these poems full of energy, prophetic
visions and beautiful language!
Ps. who is Michael Robartes?
• Michael Robartes is another one of Yeats’ personas
(previously he has tried out masks like Red Hanrahan –
a mystic lover, Aiedh – the romantic dreamer and
Oisin- the wanderer)
• He uses personas to find a shape and form for his
• Michael Robartes is associated with the occult,
supernatural, esoteric theories of knowledge,
prophecies and some of Yeats’ deepest concerns;
Yeats even attributes poems to him rather than himself
– ‘The Second Coming’ is one of them.
• You should begin thinking about which persona
Robartes represents in this poem....
Yeats on composition
‘There rose before me mental images that I
could not control: a desert and a black titan
raising himself up by his two hands from the
middle of a heap of ancient ruins.’ (From ‘A
Yeats on the gyres (in ‘A Vision’)
• Cone-shaped cycles of history
• ‘the end of the age always reveals the character of the
next age’
• It is ‘represented by the coming of one gyre to its point
of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its
greatest contraction’
• ‘At the present moment, the life gyre is sweeping
outward, unlike that before the birth of Christ which
was narrowing, and has almost reached its greatest
• Yeats felt his age was coming to the end of a 2000 year
cycle; the poem explores the turbulence of what is to
Drafts – revealed by Jon Stallworthy
• Yeats begin with a view of history in which
‘armed tyranny’ was replaced by ‘mob led
• He also made specific references to history:
references to The Russian Revolution and The
French Revolution.
• In light of turbulent Irish history, the early drafts
also seemed to reflect Irish concerns as in ‘Easter
• And the final draft? Void of all historical
specificity. Why do you think this is?
Gyres are important because...
• Poem written at time of fundamental global
• Arguably, it also reflects English gyre
contracting and Irish gyre expanding
• Engages with ideas of reversal and turmoil;
disruption of order – a ‘terrible beauty’
perhaps anticipates this
Useful references
• Second Coming predicted by Christ in
Matthew 24.12 – aka the Revelation
• ‘blood-dimmed tide’ (originally
‘bloodstained’) has echoes of the Massacre
of the Innocents by Herod and the
purifying ritual of baptism.
• The age that is ended now is the age of the
Christ (according to Yeats anyway)
AO1/AO2 – new terminology
- Loose iambic pentameter- at times more like free
- Note the trochee in the first line; stressed then
unstressed (e.g. Garden/ turning)
- Reversal of typical pentameter which begins
unstressed, stressed
- Meta-fictional at times; Yeats’ poetic voice in the
second stanza almost overcome, as though we
can see the changes taking effect (a little bit like
‘Cold Heaven’ and ‘Broken Dreams’ in this
Final questions on questions
‘The question that ends the poem is urgent but
unanswerable.’ (Daniel Howes)
• Can we answer the final question Yeats ends
the poem with? What do you think the ‘rough
beast’ is supposed to represent?
• What other questions does this poem raise?
• Is Yeats scared of change as George Orwell