The Second Coming
The failure to restore order and justice in Europe after World War One doomed the continent to a new round of horrors. This was all too clear to many observers. In 1922, the poet William Butler Yeats captured this mood of despair in his poem, “The Second Coming”:
The Second Coming
by W. B. Yeats
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 convictions, 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?
- Why is the image of the falcon flying too far to hear its master call an apt one for the interwar years?
- “The best lack all convictions, while the worst/
Are full of passionate intensity.''
Who do you think Yeats is referring to?
- A time of crisis might be a sign that the Second Coming of Christ in near. But when Yeats thinks this thought, a quite different image springs to mind:
- what stone statue with the body of a lion and the head of a man is found in the Egyptian desert?
- what does Yeats see this statue doing?
- what symbolic significance might it have that Bethlehem is its destination?
- This is a frightening poem. What words or phrases give it its dark tone?