The Second Coming

The Second Coming
By: William B. Yeats
 Born in County Dublin, Ireland 1865
 Studied in London, England 1867
 Attended the Metropolitan School of Art, 1884 – 1886
 Co-founded the Rhymer’s Club with Ernest Rhys, 1890
 Met Maud Gonne, a 23-year-old heiress, 1889
 Proposed and rejected multiple times, 1891, 1899, 1900 &
 Yeats established the Irish Literary Theater, 1899
 Married to Georgië Hyde-Lees, October 20, 1917
 Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, December 1923
 Appointed to the first Irish Senate for two terms, 1922 &
 Died in Menton, France, January 28, 1939
✛ Gyre: (Noun) \ˈjī(-ə)r\
A circular or spiral motion or form (i.e. a vortex).
Irritated, distressed, or annoyed.
Much discussed or debated.
✛ Vexed: (Adj.) \’veskt\
✛ Indignant: (Adj.) \in-’dig-nənt\
1. Feeling anger due to something unjust or unworthy.
✛ Spiritus Mundi: (Noun)
1.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.
2. The spirit, outlook, point of view, or social and cultural values
characteristic of an era of human history.
✛ Bethlehem: (Noun) \ˈbeth-li-ˌhem, -lē-həm, -lē-əm\
The city of ancient Palestine in Judea SW of Jerusalem.
The Birth Place of Jesus.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the
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: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind 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
And what rough beast, its hour come
round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Historical Context
✛ "The Second Birth” as it was originally titled is a poem composed by
Irish poet William Butler Yeats in 1919 First printed in The Dial in
November 1920, and afterwards included in his 1921 collection of
verses titled Michael Robartes and the Dancer.
✛ The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and
second coming allegorically to describe the atmosphere of post-war
✛ While the various manuscript revisions of the poem refer to the
Renaissance, French Revolutions, the Irish rebellion, and the
Revolutions of Germany and Russia, several literary critics such as
Richard Ellmann and Harold Bloom suggest that the text refers to
the Russian Revolution of 1917.
✛ The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has
been reprinted in several collections including The Norton Anthology
of Modernist Poetry.
✛Free Verse Poem & Iambic pentameter
✛22 lines w/ octet & 14-line stanza
✛Pessimistic to faithful tonal alternations
✛Apocalyptic Theme with Biblical
✛Contains a variety literary devices
✛ The first instance of imagery presented in the poem is an image of dismay and
destruction i.e. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart the centre cannot
✛ In layman’s terms, the falcon cannot hear the call of safety, and begins to spiral wider
and wider, more out of control.
✛ The falcon is the symbol of a messenger spreading the call of chaos amongst the world.
✛ When the poet states “…the centre cannot hold;” he refers to the society collapsing onto
✛ Originally we were led to believe by our own teacher that the poet also included a
reference to the book “Things fall apart” by Achebe, published in 1958, which described
missionaries in Africa, attempting to convert and expose indigenous tribes to Christianity.
✛ However, after further analysis, we have found that this poem was published in 1919, 39
years before the book existed.
✛ In fact, as mentioned earlier, the poem has a post-war theme, reflecting upon the
tragedies of WW1
✛ So forth; “The ceremony of innocence is drowned;…” is the ideal that society has lost
its innocent day to day life due to the anarchy left by war.
✛ "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity shows the
rise and fall of the two contrast power. The best becomes weak while the worst becomes
overwhelming. The evil is so rampant that people stop believing in good values.
✛ At the beginning at the second stanza, a slight hope seems to be revealed by the
assurance of "the second coming is at hand."
✛ Yet, Yeats turns out to be fear of the second coming because of "a vast image out of
Spiritus Mundi" which is another of his ideology, meaning the spirit of the earth looking
upon the world like a spectator of human history as it unfolds.
✛ What bothers Yeats is "somewhere in sands of the desert / A shape with lion body ad the
head of a man" which refers to a sphinx-like beast, implicating the declined civilization in
✛ Here, Yeats suggests that Christianity is going to be replaced by paganism which offers no
comfort for the speaker.
✛ Also, the image of the desert that connotes lifelessness and desolation corresponds to the
idea of the end of the world filled with bleakness.
✛ "A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun," shows that the beast is as indifferent and
unsympathetic as the desert sun.
✛ The beast is "moving its slow thighs," metaphorically saying that it is sexually awakened
and is about to take actions and is accompanied by the "indignant desert birds" which eat
the dead and are usually associated with death.
✛ The appearance of the desert birds shows the apparent possibility of death in the form of
"reel shadow," suggesting the overwhelming dark power.
✛ “The Darkness Drops again but now I know” is a reflection upon the
experience of faith decaying into treachery and mistrust in the state of
Europe as well as the world and its future.
✛ "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last”, brings an alternate
argument indicating that the Second Coming does not refer to Jesus Christ
who is going to bring order to the world but rather a beast that will bring
disorder and destruction to the world.
✛ Yeasts' use of the holy land of Christianity, Bethlehem, as the birthplace of
the beast again reinforces his view of the declining Christian civilization
because the holy land is going to take over by a pagan beast.
✛ "Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” This line shows Yeats anxiety
and uncertainty about the coming new civilization, but, paradoxically, he
may also feel excited, anticipating a new order to be established.
✛ Yeats expresses his worry about the world after WWI and the turbulent
political state in Ireland and in the mean time skillfully conveys his ideology
of civilization in the poem.
The Quiz
True or False:
1. The poem was originally titled “The Second Birth”?
2. The poem is a Free/Blank Verse?
3. The poem was based on a secular theme?
4. “Spiritus Mundi” is a symbol of war?
5. Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus?
6. “The Second Coming” was written after WW1?
7. The tone of the first stanza is optimistic?
8. The poem holds a consistent tone without diction?
9. William Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in
Literature, December 1922?
10. William Yeats married Maud Gonne?
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and
playwright, and one of the foremost figures
of 20th century literature.