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"The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats

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Grace Fleming

on 19 February 2014

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Transcript of "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats

"The Second Coming"
Written by: William Butler Yeats

"The Second Coming"
By: William Butler Yeats
Who Was Yeats?
was appointed to the position of senator of the "Irish Free State" at that time (Poets.org)
believed that life on Earth was cyclical, and used images of circles, moon phases, or gyres in his work to communicate this idea (Poetry Foundation)
at the beginning of the 20th century, he became very involved and interested in theater
married Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917
served as a senator for 6 years in Ireland
"tried to transform the local concerns of his own life by embodying them in the resonantly universal language of his poem" (William)
Life-long Criticism of
Yeats' Work
Yeats's use of odd super-natural and spiritual themes have led many people to believe that his works were "intellectual garbage" (Smith)
"The Second Coming" Paraphrased
The behavior of society is tending towards evil, leading Yeats to believe an apocalypse is approaching.Yeats makes it seem like humanity will be responsible or its own end. Within this apocalypse, Yeats is questioning if there are truly good people in the world if nobody acts well in the face of chaos.
We, humans, have lost control of ourselves and our responsibilities
Criticism of "The Second Coming"
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 everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
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 man,
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 cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

"The poem is one of those few compositions which can be understood if we have some knowledge of Yeats' philosophy of history. Yeats believed that history runs in cycles." (bachelorandmaster.com)
"Yeats' use of rich and vivid symbols in this poem creates a feeling of disaster, turning to dread at the thought of facing a change, even when such a change could be an improvement." (Zaragoza)
"The poem begins with the image of a falcon flying out of earshot from its human master... In this image, however, the falcon has gotten itself lost by flying too far away which we can read as a reference to the collapse of traditional social arrangements in Europe at6 the time Yeast was writing." (Waters)
As fellow poet W.H. Auden noted in a 1948 Kenyon Review essay entitled "Yeats as an Example," Yeats accepted the modern necessity of having to make a lonely and deliberate "choice of the principals and presuppositions in terms of which made sense to his experience." (poetryfoundation.org)
imaginative and spontaneous
"His brilliant rhetorical accomplishments, strengthened by his considerable powers of rhythm and poetic phrase, have earned wide praise from readers and, especially, from fellow poets, including W. H. Auden (who praised Yeats as the savior of English lyric poetry), Stephen Spender, Theodore Roethke, and Philip Larkin." (William).
The falcon is spiraling further and further off its course
The falcon is getting farther from its owner
The falconer cannot control the falcon
Chaos floods upon the world
A flood of blood has been released
Purity is blotted out by evil
Intelligent people do not act with confidence
While malicious people run rampant
A great change in the world must occur

The situation has to be improved
A change in the world is happening before the words are said
Yeats is terrified by the image he sees
A waste of time and resources
Unnatural combinations of a new age
Watching events transpire without emotion
Tension in the world is growing
While vultures circle, awaiting more death

A darker time is about to befall the world
That since the time of Christ
The world has fallen into a nightmarish state
As the beast arises to cleanse the world
However the beast is not Jesus

born a Protestant in Ireland on June 13, 1865
his father was a lawyer and an artist
he was very intrigued by his Irish heritage, and used Irish folklore and songs to inspire his first poems
lived majority of his life in London
fell in love with a women and spent almost 30 years trying to win her over, when he found out that she already had two children
became very interested in the occult and spirituality after his friend took him to a spiritual awakening
Subject, Attitude
The speaker of the poem is William Butler Yeats. The subject of the poem is how society is going down an immoral path and is going to fall apart. This is evidenced in the falcon moving farther from the objective of the falconer. Additionally, Yeats repeatedly mentions the Second Coming, which in the last stanza is an apocalypse. His attitude toward the subject is one of disapproval. Yeats does not like the path society is taking and fears for the worst, the end of humanity. The poem also displays Yeats’s belief that a purge of evil from the world cannot be done, thus, implying that humanity cannot exist without evil.

The stanzas of the poem separate the poem into segments. The first section is about society and how it is falling apart. The second stanza is about the coming of the apocalypse that will ensue due to the irresponsibility of society. And the third stanza is about how the apocalypse will be bad for everyone. The separation allows the reader to clearly see the path society is taking in a step by step thinking. The causes and effects are also pointed out by this. The way society acts is the cause for all that is to follow.
Literary Devices
The falconer represents good morals and choices, and the falcon represents society, as well as tradition. The falcon getting farther symbolizes how society is straying from what is right. The indignant desert birds symbolize vultures, scavengers who await the mass death about to befall humanity. The sphinx is also symbolic of false hope. That people are ready to put their faith into anything, no matter what it looks like. The falconer is also the population, and the falcon the leaders. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer” is a metaphor that the people and the leaders are not communicating, leading to large issues such as war. The words “stony sleep” also utilize alliteration, the constant “s” sound helps to keep the reader engaged.

The imagery of the sphinx is used to conjure fear. The way it is described as having no emotion makes it seem indifferent to the lives it will end. Also the widening gyre Yeats describes makes society appear to be spiraling out of control.
Yeats use of the phrases “is loosed” and “the Second Coming”, along with more archaic symbolism like falcons and the sphinx give the poem a flavor like that of an incantation. Given that the end of the world is an idea that has been around in many civilizations from the past, the incantation makes it sound more like a prophecy, as Yeats seems to be predicting what will happen if society continues on its course. The writing of this poem followed World War I, so Yeats is predicting that the “War to end all Wars” will not actually be the end.
Rhyme and Rhythm
The poem is in iambic pentameter for most of the 22 lines. However, the meter is loose, emphasizing the chaos. Due to the meter being loose the poem almost seems to be a free verse poem with some big stresses here and there. The free verse feeling makes the sense of no leadership the poem talks about stronger. Notably line 14 differs from iambic pentameter “A shape with lion body and the head of a man”, further emphasizing how unnatural the sphinx is. Additionally, the poem has no rhyme scheme, which stresses the chaos of the poem, as there is no pattern to it. The chaos of the poem parallels the chaos of society.
The title alludes to the apocalypse Yeats believes is approaching. It is also a reference to the biblical reappearance of Christ, accompanied by the Apocalypse and Last Judgement.
Yeats has a negative attitude towards the behavior of society. The tone of the poem is very dark and sinister, highlighting the lack of faith Yeats has in society. The tone is also really clear, leaving no real questions as to how Yeats feels about society. It also makes his criticism of society more persuasive and powerful. Given that Yeats wrote this poem after World War I, is is clear that he disliked the war and everything about it, however, the criticism he makes allows the reader to grasp that Yeats believes the war is not entirely over. And he is warning society that it must change, or a worse conflict, a Second Coming, will destroy the world.
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