Yeats – The Second Coming (1921)

One of the last poems in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), “The Second Coming” opens with an image of a gyre ceding unifying strength to a centrifugal force coming from an unidentifiable force.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is looked upon the world.

This scene of chaos flows into a plea that borrows its tone and semiotics from Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”: “Surely some revelation is at hand; / Surely the second coming is at hand.” This anticipation is answered by an image (reminiscent of “Ozymondiaz”) of a creature half-lion, half-man, “[Slouching] towards Bethlehem.” The reference to Chist’s birth is peculiar because it is triggered by modern events that seem to render that event suddenly timely….that is, the history of the western world (Stephen’s “nightmare from which I am trying to wake) suddenly makes sense because it is retrospectively written as a history of disaster culminating in the mass destruction of the frist world war. There is revelation here (unlike in Hardy), but it is only showing that our future is a past that we have failed.

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?

Connect this with untimeliness in general: how poetry (and all other forms of knowing) comes too late. Untimeliness.  Also, the imposition of a question at the end. Why? Track the tortured interrogative in Yeats (“No Second Troy”)

Connect rocking cradle to “a terrible beauty is born.” Connect this with the language of reproduction and birth that runs throughout Victorian and Modernist literature, especially as it relates to culture and nationalism.

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One response to “Yeats – The Second Coming (1921)

  1. Just felt like I should take a look like this.
    Had to read Things Fall Apart (based on the The Second Coming) and I really liked the poem from Yeats.
    Your analysis is well thought out.

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