The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats, Analysis, Summary

Introduction: W.B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" is one of his most well-known works. It provides a profoundly mysterious and potent alternative to the Christian concept of the Second Coming—anticipated Jesus's return to the Earth as a saviour heralding the Kingdom of Heaven. It was written in 1919, just after the conclusion of World War I.
In Nutshell: The opening line of the poem paints a picture of a chaotic, confusing, and painful world. The second, longer verse imagines the speaker being given a glimpse of the future, but this vision substitutes what appears to be the appearance of a hideous beast for Jesus's heroic return. "The Second Coming" is one of Yeats's most frequently quoted poems due to its distinctive imagery and realistic depiction of society's breakdown.

Text of the Poem

  1. Turning and turning in the widening gyre
  2. The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
  3. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
  4. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
  5. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
  6. The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
  7. The best lack all conviction, while the worst
  8. Are full of passionate intensity.

  9. Surely some revelation is at hand;
  10. Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
  11. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
  12. When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
  13. Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
  14. A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
  15. A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
  16. Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
  17. Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
  18. The darkness drops again; but now I know
  19. That twenty centuries of stony sleep
  20. Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
  21. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
  22. Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Line by Line Summary

  1. Circling around in the air
  2. the falcon (bird) cannot hear the owner's call.
  3. Things break away and are destroyed when the centre loses control.
  4. as result, violence and disorder spread in the world
  5. So, a tide of blood is released everywhere
  6. which takes down all the innosence left in the world, that is, people turn to crime
  7. good people lack motivation while the worst
  8. are full of motivation, passion and eagerness.
  9. Some revelation is soon to happen,
  10. surely the second coming of Messiah is close,
  11. As soon the words are uttered "the second coming!"
  12. a vision from collective unconscious (spiritus mundi) appears
  13. which confuses speaker, the vision of somwhere in sands of desert
  14. where a creature appears which has body of a lion and head of a man
  15. the creature appears blank, that is, empty and merciless just like the sun.
  16. The creature is moving its legs slowly, while all around him
  17. the shadows of the disturbed desert birds are circling
  18. nightfall approaches, everything turns dark, but this time speaker knows
  19. that two thousand years of peace and calmness
  20. are irreversibly disrupted by shaking of a cradle.
  21. Speaker wonders, what is that beast, that is to come,
  22. that beastly creature is moving slowly to Bethlemen to be born?

Analysis in Bullets

  • The opening line of the poem suggests that the cosmos is rotating and changing. This poem's first phrase, which is cryptic and intricate and menacing while withholding any information about what may be happening, helps to establish a feeling of mystery from the very beginning.
  • It appears to be lamenting the separation of the "falcon," or mankind, from its falconer—from its God, ethics, or morals.
  • Although Yeats himself was disinterested in tradition and order, he did express his affection for wild birds in other works like "The Wild Swans at Coole" and he did depart from his Christian background to follow esoteric interests.
  • Yet another possible meaning: The falcon is now free, the world has broken from its former traditions of convention and restriction, and it can advance into a new period when it will find new freedoms and new possibilities.
  • The third line's use of the term "the centre cannot hold" suggests that something formerly considered to be basic to the world is altering permanently. The decentralisation of the centre is signified. 
  • Yeats uses esoteric techniques to delve into legendary imagery in the poem's second half. According to Yeats, everyone has a huge, shared memory that is filled with stories and archetypes that are shared by all people. The strange, apocalyptic imagery that drives the poem to its end comes from this collective awareness, or Spiritus Mundi, which Carl Jung also referred to as the Oversoul.
  • The speaker enters a bizarre vision in which he sees a sphinx in the middle of a desert, staring at him cruelly while moving its thighs slowly and almost sexually. This sphinx may be giving the speaker the answers to what is going on around him while also embodying primal, ancient ways of being and creative, fertile energies that could signify a union and rebirth.

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