Featured Poem: The Second Coming by WB Yeats

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This week we look at WB Yeats’ The Second Coming which, written in a time of turbulence and political change in Europe, may feel familiar in the modern day.

Written in 1919 in the aftermath of World War One and on the cusp of the Irish War of Independence that followed the Easter Rising, The Second Coming was to represent the birth of a new time to WB Yeats.

The poem includes imagery most associated with Yeats‘ legacy, reading as a dirge for the decline of European civilisation but also references Yeats‘ apocalyptic mystical theories.

The ‘gyre’ imagery creates a feeling of chaos as the world spinning outwardly cannot recall its own origin, reflecting the turbulence of war that had devastated much of Europe in previous years and the growing rise of industrialism and militarism that was prevalent on a global scale at the time.

The turning of a circle continues throughout the poem, the concluding lines incorporating Yeats‘ belief that history was cyclical – the age of the traditional ruling classes of Europe was coming to an end, the power and prominence of religion would decline.

The poem also marked a change for Yeats as a writer; The Second Coming is one of the last overtly political poems Yeats penned, returning to earlier themes of mysticism and asking more questions about the self, mortality and the idea of a poet’s legacy.

 

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: somewhere in sands of the desert
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
Reel 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?
WB Yeats

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