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 experiences • 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 Vision’) 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 expansion’ • Yeats felt his age was coming to the end of a 2000 year cycle; the poem explores the turbulence of what is to come Drafts – revealed by Jon Stallworthy • Yeats begin with a view of history in which ‘armed tyranny’ was replaced by ‘mob led anarchy’. • 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 1916’. • 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 change • 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 verse - 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 respect) 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 suggested?