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The Second Coming. By: William B. Yeat s. Autobiography. Born in County Dublin, Ireland 1865 Studied in London, England 1867 Attended the Metropolitan School of Art, 1884 – 1886 Co-founded the Rhymer’s Club with Ernest Rhys, 1890 Met Maud Gonne, a 23-year-old heiress, 1889

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the second coming

The Second Coming

By: William B. Yeats

  • Born in County Dublin, Ireland 1865
  • Studied in London, England 1867
  • Attended the Metropolitan School of Art, 1884 – 1886
  • Co-founded the Rhymer’s Club with Ernest Rhys, 1890
  • Met Maud Gonne, a 23-year-old heiress, 1889
  • Proposed and rejected multiple times, 1891, 1899, 1900 & 1901
  • Yeats established the Irish Literary Theater, 1899
  • Married to Georgië Hyde-Lees, October 20, 1917
  • Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, December 1923
  • Appointed to the first Irish Senate for two terms, 1922& 1925.
  • Died in Menton, France, January 28, 1939
  • Gyre: (Noun) \ˈjī(-ə)r\
    • Acircular or spiral motion or form (i.e. a vortex).
  • Vexed: (Adj.) \’veskt\
    • Irritated, distressed, or annoyed.
    • Much discussed or debated.
  • Indignant: (Adj.) \in-’dig-nənt\

1. Feeling anger due to something unjust or unworthy.

  • SpiritusMundi: (Noun)

1.Yeats' belief that each human mind is linked to a single vast intelligence, and that this intelligence causes certain universal symbols to appear in individual minds.

2. The spirit, outlook, point of view, or social and cultural values characteristic of an era of human history.

  • Bethlehem: (Noun) \ˈbeth-li-ˌhem, -lē-həm, -lē-əm\
    • The city of ancient Palestine in Judea SW of Jerusalem.
    • The Birth Place of Jesus.

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?

historical context
Historical Context
  • "The Second Birth” as it was originally titled is a poem composed by Irish poet William Butler Yeats in 1919 First printed in The Dial in November 1920, and afterwards included in his 1921 collection of verses titled Michael Robartes and the Dancer.
  • The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and second coming allegorically to describe the atmosphere of post-war Europe.
  • While the various manuscript revisions of the poem refer to the Renaissance, French Revolutions, the Irish rebellion, and the Revolutions of Germany and Russia, several literary critics such as Richard Ellmann and Harold Bloom suggest that the text refers to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
  • The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections including The Norton Anthology of Modernist Poetry.
  • Free Verse Poem & Iambic pentameter
  • 22 lines w/ octet & 14-line stanza
  • Pessimistic to faithfultonalalternations
  • Apocalyptic Theme with Biblical references
  • Contains a variety literary devices
  • The first instance of imagery presented in the poem is an image of dismay and destruction i.e. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart the centre cannot hold;”
  • In layman’s terms, the falcon cannot hear the call of safety, and begins to spiral wider and wider, more out of control.
  • The falcon is the symbol of a messenger spreading the call of chaos amongst the world.
  • When the poet states “…the centre cannot hold;” he refers to the society collapsing onto anarchy.
  • Originally we were led to believe by our own teacher that the poet also included a reference to the book “Things fall apart” by Achebe, published in 1958, which described missionaries in Africa, attempting to convert and expose indigenous tribes to Christianity.
  • However, after further analysis, we have found that this poem was published in 1919, 39 years before the book existed.
  • In fact, as mentioned earlier, the poem has a post-war theme, reflecting upon the tragedies of WW1
  • So forth; “The ceremony of innocence is drowned;…” is the ideal that society has lost its innocent day to day life due to the anarchy left by war.
  • "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity shows the rise and fall of the two contrast power. The best becomes weak while the worst becomes overwhelming. The evil is so rampant that people stop believing in good values.
  • Moreover, not only does the imagery in the first stanza present the disarrayed world but also the symbolizes the fact that life can be chaotic.
  • At the beginning at the second stanza, a slight hope seems to be revealed by the assurance of "the second coming is at hand."
  • Yet, Yeats turns out to be fear of the second coming because of "a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi" which is another of his ideology, meaning the spirit of the earth looking upon the world like a spectator of human history as it unfolds.
  • What bothers Yeats is "somewhere in sands of the desert / A shape with lion body ad the head of a man" which refers to a sphinx-like beast, implicating the declined civilization in Egypt.
  • Here, Yeats suggests that Christianity is going to be replaced by paganism which offers no comfort for the speaker.
  • Also, the image of the desert that connotes lifelessness and desolation corresponds to the idea of the end of the world filled with bleakness.
  • "A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun," shows that the beast is as indifferent and unsympathetic as the desert sun.
  • The beast is "moving its slow thighs," metaphorically saying that it is sexually awakened and is about to take actions and is accompanied by the "indignant desert birds" which eat the dead and are usually associated with death.
  • The appearance of the desert birds shows the apparent possibility of death in the form of "reel shadow," suggesting the overwhelming dark power.
  • “The Darkness Drops again but now I know” is a reflection upon the experience of faith decaying into treachery and mistrust in the state of Europe as well as the world and its future.
  • "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last”, brings an alternate argument indicating that the Second Coming does not refer to Jesus Christ who is going to bring order to the world but rather a beast that will bring disorder and destruction to the world.
  • Yeasts' use of the holy land of Christianity, Bethlehem, as the birthplace of the beast again reinforces his view of the declining Christian civilization because the holy land is going to take over by a pagan beast.
  • "Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” This line shows Yeats anxiety and uncertainty about the coming new civilization, but, paradoxically, he may also feel excited, anticipating a new order to be established.
  • Yeats expresses his worry about the world after WWI and the turbulent political state in Ireland and in the mean time skillfully conveys his ideology of civilization in the poem.
the quiz
The Quiz

True or False:

  • The poem was originally titled “The Second Birth”?
  • The poem is a Free/Blank Verse?
  • The poem was based on a secular theme?
  • “Spiritus Mundi” is a symbol of war?
  • Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus?
  • “The Second Coming” was written after WW1?
  • The tone of the first stanza is optimistic?
  • The poem holds a consistent tone without diction?
  • William Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, December 1922?
  • William Yeats married Maud Gonne?
william butler yeats
William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature.