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.
[William Butler Yeats wrote this poem in 1919. It is an early work of Modernism. The form of this poem is free verse. The “gyre” of the first verse is a spiral. A lost falcon turns in a widening spiral, unable to find its owner. The “anarchy” Yeats describes is the afmtermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In the last two verses of this stanza Yeats encapsulates the fear that the political leaders of his generation are the worst people possible.]
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 speaker believes a divine message is coming, “Surely some revelation is at hand.” Then he thinks excitedly of the Second Coming, that is, the return of Christ. The Spiritus Mundi that presents him an image is the collective spirit of all humanity. A creature with a lion’s body and a man’s head, otherwise known as a sphinx, emerges from the desert. Shadows of desert birds, perhaps vultures, circle overhead. Note the contrast between majestic falcon of the first stanza and the “indignant desert birds” of this one.]
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?
[It is not Christ, but a monster instead, that has arisen. It seems Yeats believed the apocalypse was near. Is this the Beast or the Antichrist of the Book of Revelation? The pessimism of the poet is clear. The precise meaning of his prophecy is opaque.]