The Second Coming

Notes by Fenella Chesterfield

KEY QUOTATIONS AND ANALYSIS 

  • ‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre / he falcon cannot hear the falconer’

‘gyre’

–  a geometrical shape

–  Yeats theory of life expressed in ‘A Vision’ – each gyre gradually rotates towards a point of maximum expansion, at this point a new gyre starts in the center of the previous. And thus it continues in a never ending line.

 Why the gyre image is contextually important:

Written in 1919, published in1920.

–  written at a time of fundamental change

–  contraction of the English gyre (after WW1)

–  the Irish gyre is starting to expand.  – ‘the widening gyre’

The image of the falcon being turned in the turmoil of the gyre to such an extent that it cannot even hear its creator, is a terrifying one. The idea the bird of prey now being the victim, shows how everything has gone wrong.

Many believe this violent image is used to show how the violence of war has overtaken the purpose of war.

Whereas in ‘Among School Children’ we cannot ‘know the dancer from the dance’, here the falcon and the falconer cannot be united. Violence reaching a peak.

  • ‘Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’

–  use of ‘mere’ shows how the anarchy is pure and undiluted.

–  almost like a caged creature that has just been unleashed.

raises questions:          – why is it released?

– who released it?

Represents an indescribable sense of evil realisation, that so many can die for so little.

  • The blood dimmed tide is loosed’

–  the ‘tide’ is in a constant state of flux – very ‘Yeatsian’ (everything is mutable and transient)

Revelation 17:3-6 tells us that ‘the beast’ will come as a precursor to the second coming of Christ.

The first stanza seems to suggest that beast has come in the from of WW1: ‘The blood dimmed tide’ mirrors the book or revelation:

‘And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea;

and it became as the blood of a dead man’  (Revelation 16:3)

  • ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned’

Yeats believes that innocence is a fabrication born of religion and belief. He is suggesting that the harsh reality of war has killed belief.

The line ‘Surely some revelation is at hand; / Surely the Second Coming is at hand’.

Demonstrates how people at the time believed that the beast had come, and belief had been snuffed out. The second coming must be coming soon.

–  ‘surely’ is used to express an overt desire – if that wasn’t the beast then something much worse is to come.

-‘some’ is used to express desperation.

However, the exclamation mark at the end of the line: ‘The second coming!’ is almost mocking.

  • ‘The best lack conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity’

Yeats yet again demonstrating his belief that fervor for any one cause kills you.

c/r ‘Easter 1916’: ‘Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart’

  • ‘Hardly are those words out / When a vast image of Spiritus Mundi / troubles my sight’

–  Another of Yeats’ beliefs – a communal memory from the ether

–  at moments of artist fervor and artistic success, the artist can access a truth from the ether (everything that has ever existed).

–  it is an unseen truth – in this case: the image of the sphinx – ‘somewhere in the sands of the desert / A shape with lion body and the head of a man’

  • ‘Is moving its slow thighs, while all around it / Reel shadows of indignant desert birds’

–  the sphinx is a work of art, and yet it is moving, proving its mutability. Even art, which Yeats loves so much is mutable. Shows the true horror of ‘the beast’.

–  ‘thighs’ – c/r ‘Leda and the swan’: ‘loosening thighs’ – the image of thighs once again used to proceed the unleashing of horror upon a civilization.

–  the giant predator is about to prey and unleash hell. The birds are ready to feed on the prey.

–  also: could be birds about to prey on sphinx – nature about to consume art. c/r ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ – scarecrow trying to scare away nature.

  • ‘That twenty centuries of stony sleep / Were vexed to a nightmare by a rocking cradle’

–  here Yeats is likening Christianity to the stone in the stream – ‘Easter 1916’ ‘the stone’s in the midst of all’

–  Since the births of Christ the world has been set in its Christian views, and the bible. Now this innocent shelter sleep has been rendered a nightmare by WWI.

–  here WWI is the ‘rocking cradle’ disrupting Christianity by causing people to question their faith.

  • ‘its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’

–  ends with a rhetorical question – Leda and the Swan

– Among School Children

–  The end suggestion is that Christ is the beast, and always has been, because for Yeats anything is a horror is you commit your heart to it completely: ‘Love God with all you heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’

–  or… the fact that the beast savagely ‘slouches towards Bethlehem’ could be interpreted as meaning that the beast (WWI) will kill Christ, as it causes people to question their faith so much that they no longer believe.

USEFUL QUOTATIONS TO SUPPORT A READING OF ‘THE SECOND COMING’

All biblical quotations are taken from The King James Bible (http://kingjbible.com)

REVELATION 16:3

And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.

‘PRAYER FOR MY DAUGHTER’ by W.B YEATS

How but in custom and ceremony / Are innocence and beauty born?

MATTHEW 24: 27-31

27For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

REVELATION 17: 3-6

So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

4And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

5And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

6And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

7And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.

YEATS WRITING ON PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY’S POEM ‘QUEEN MAB’

The passage where Queen Mab awakes ‘all knowledge of the past,’ and the good

and evil ‘events of old and wondrous times,’ was no more doubtless than a part

of the machinery of the poem, but all the machineries of poetry are parts of the

convictions of antiquity, and readily become again convictions in minds that

dwell upon them….

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10 thoughts on “The Second Coming

  1. The fact that it is written as a free verse could perhaps reflect the chaos and lack of control being depicted in the poem. It seems to produce a similar effect as “The Cold Heaven” were the structure reflects the poets rushing thoughts. Both may be linked contextual by the fact that Yeats never accepted conventional Christianity.

  2. What can you link this to? I’m thinking Leda and the Swan but that’s completely different or could u argue and say violence is seen in Leda and swan??

  3. Aha! Cross reference to cold heaven for biblical allusions and ambiguity of looking to Christianity for answers. And wild swans at Coole links with change in poem.

  4. My love for this poem is vast and unending. In fact I would like to get “Surely the Second Coming is at hand” engraved on my tombstone

  5. Can someone explain this poem to me lol? It’s really confusing – what is he trying to convey everyone?

    • I may be absolutely no help what so ever, but here I go 😀 The way I view the poem, and trust me there are hundreds of interpretations, is that Yeats believes some event, a second coming, is coming. That the world is changing into a new era. The gyre is all about how one event leads into another, like one era leads into another. This poem can therefore be seen as an apocalyptic vision of the collapse of civilisation into anarchy. The new era, I believe, could represent a new era where religion has no place. The line ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned’ could represent the getting rid off baptism. The idea of the ‘Second Coming’ to many represents when jesus will return to earth, but the idea of the new beast makes It appear like yeats believes what is to come is something we have never seen before. The last line contemplates the birth of this new era.
      Its important to realise that nobody really knows what the poem is about, and I think even Yeats might not have really known what he was getting at 🙂 I think Yeats was mainly just trying to convey chaos and the inevitable new era 🙂
      Hope this helped and Good Luck on Friday 😀

      • Thank you for the assistance, it’s a good thing that this didn’t come up hehehehe lol lmao rofl xxx
        do you wanna meet up after results day to celebrate our probable A’s?

      • Lol can I come too? It can be a three-way celebration!!!

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