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 i{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?

by William Butler Yeats

Comments (28)

A PERFECT incantatory poem. Definitely has to be read aloud. Perhaps, the source of more allusions in titles of books, editorials, etc. than any other modern poem- obviously not a positive commentary on modern times.
Fine and lofty verse. Free flight of creativity on winged imagination. A masterful piece of poetry.
There is no replacement for first 4 lines. Truly a great visionary poem.
The poem was composed in 1939, when WWII was gathering steam. In that sense, I agree with Greg- it IS prescient. In the opening image, the falcon (animal nature, predator) is no longer controlled by the falconer (human, royalty, animal restrainer) has lost control. Yeats saw history, among other things, as cyclical, imaged as gyres whose points touch. In the context of the poem, the dominance of Christianity, of Western Civilization, which, Yeats believes, reached its peak around the 11th century (the peak of Byzantine unity of being) , has lost its intellectual, moral and ethical core.20 centuries- 10 rising to a peak,10 falling to its doom. In its place, a new historical cycle begins with the Sphinx- the intellect of a human with the body of the king of the jungle- consummating (shudder in the loins) with an unidentified creature that, impregnated, slouches toward Bethlehem to give birth to a rough beast. This beast will be the personification of the new historical cycle, bringing anarchy and the blood-dimmed tide. I don't think Yeats would have named this beast the Antichrist; he was not, after all, a Christian. But the birth of the beast, the death and destruction it will bring to fruition communicate a striking irony for Christians, for whom The Second Coming of Christ is a time of salvation and rebirth.
This poem was written in the aftermath of WW-1, and it has all the harrowing qualities one might expect in the aftermath of 'The War to End All War.' Sad, innit, that we haven't progressed beyond the point where we could consider this a marvelous antique artifact. It's ahead of its time and prescient, just as fresh and true today as ever it was. Certainly one of my favorites, I consider it one of the best poems ever written in the English language - really, in ANY language!
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