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Analysis of ‘The Second Coming’ by William Butler Yeats

As part of my IB course, I had to analyse a selection of poems from a variety of eras, genres and cultures. One of them included ‘The Second Coming’ by William Butler Yeats. Included is the poem and my analysis.

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Analysis of ‘The Second Coming’ by William Butler Yeats

The Second Coming


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: 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?

William Butler Yeats, http://www.online-literature.com/donne/780/, 1919


The Second Coming depicts a country’s revelation and reflects Yeat’s experience whilst living through WWI. The poem displays apocalyptic imagery to describe the people’s overthrow of the politically corrupt government. The ‘turning and turning’ of the gyre is a metaphor suggesting the population’s awakening and the spinning motion reflects their instigation to eradicate the superior powers. The repetition of ‘turning’ suggests a slow, yet ominous transition of a people’s beliefs as ‘things fall apart’. The falcon is a metaphor representing the ruling government whom ‘cannot hear the falconer’, the falconer being the population. It suggests the obliviousness of the rulers who are unaware of the people’s infuriation. The imagery that they are falconers suggests their role as hunters and the consequent violent nature of humanity.

‘Mere anarchy’ supports such lack of government control which has a biblical connotation that refers to Satan’s reign on earth before the return of Christ. Satan represents the hatred within all individuals brought about by their intolerance to endure further suffering. Followed by ‘loosed upon the world’, the anarchy slowly breaks apart the structure of society. Evidence of ‘the best lacking all conviction’ and ‘the worst are full of passionate intensity’ highlights the indiscrimination of revolution. It affects not one specific class of people, but everyone, regardless of status. ‘Passionate intensity’ reinforces the irrational mentality of the population provoked by their anger towards corruption and unfairness.

Yeats uses a blank verse structure in which the use of repetition is a rarity. The revelation which ‘is at hand’ is repeated once more, possibly to reassure the narrator’s apprehension and fear of a lawless society.

A further reference to the Bible is apparent in Yeats’ expression of the Sphinx’s ‘shape with lion body and the head of a man’ that resides in ‘a waste of desert sand’. Because Christ was tempted by Satan in the desert, such a desolate environment is pathetic fallacy and supports the collapse of humanity, including its ‘Spiritus Mundi’.

Alliteration of ‘stony sleep’ protrudes from the line to illustrate the endurance and the withstanding of time between the birth of Jesus and the present day, that is the first and second coming.

A second depiction of nature is that of the ‘rough beast’ which acts as a harbinger that foreshadows mutiny. The beast can be in reference to Satan who’s ‘hour has come round at last’, suggesting parallelism with the public’s unrest and their ominous acts of revolt.
 
Due to its blank verse structure, I have enjoyed analysing this poem because of its narrative and almost story-telling nature. The biblical references are subtle within both stanzas and are reinforced by the vivid imagery and the urgency of mankind’s need for belief and stability.

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