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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?
Russian icon of "The Second Coming" c. 1700.
"The Second Coming" is a poem composed by Irish poet William Butler Yeats in 1919 and 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. The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections including The Norton Anthology of Modernist Poetry.
The poem was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War, and was at first titled "The Second Birth".  While the various manuscript revisions of the poem refer to the Renaissance, French Revolutions, the Irish rebellion, and those of Germany and of Russia, Richard Ellman and Harold Bloom suggest the text refers to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Bloom refers to the first draft of the work, in which Yeats depicts the Fascist German troops dispatched to aid Russian counter-revolutionaries. He also argues that Yeats takes their side and the poem suggests that reaction to the revolution would come too late. This interpretation has been questioned strongly on the grounds that it is far too narrow for a poet such as Yeats. Early drafts also included such lines as: "And there's no Burke to cry aloud no Pitt," and "The good are wavering, while the worst prevail."
In popular culture
- Chinua Achebe's watershed English language novel Things Fall Apart takes its title from Yeats's poem.
- In the denouement of his first novel in The Dresden Files series, Storm Front, Jim Butcher paraphrases the opening stanza of the poem as Harry contemplates the world growing ever darker.
- DC Comics' series Batman: The Widening Gyre, written by Kevin Smith, and illustrated by his lifelong friend and muse, Walter Flanagan, was titled after the opening line of this poem and draws heavily on Yeats' themes and symbolism.
- Joan Didion's non-fiction collection "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" takes its title from this poem. This adaptation of a line in the poem has become an idiom, using the phrase "Slouching Toward..." to indicate lumbering movement towards an end, such as the title Slouching Towards Gomorrah by Robert Bork or the news magazine Foreign Policy article "Slouching Toward Damascus" about John Kerry's diplomatic efforts in Syria.
- The poem is featured in Stephen King's novel The Stand. It is quoted by a general who pronounces the poet's name "Yeets."
- Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods quotes part of the poem.
- In the comic V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the character V quotes the poem.
- In The Lamb White Days (copyright 2009) by Kenneth D. Reimer , the protagonist of the novel has written a non-fiction book which takes its title from a line in the poem: "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". The four chapter headings of Reimer's novel are also taken from "The Second Coming."
- Elyn Saks' memoir of her life with schizophrenia, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, takes its title from Yeats' poem.
- In the manga Sailor Moon, written and illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi, Hotaru Tomoe recites sections of the poem in Act 44.
- In Harry Turtledove's American Empire trilogy the title of the second book, The Center Cannot Hold, references a line of the poem.
- In Dean Koontz's novel Odd Apocalypse, Henry Lolam, the security guard at the front gate of Roseland, references a line of the poem to Odd Thomas saying "the center might still hold" (indicating a hope that Roseland's stone wall might keep impending doom at bay). Notable also is that a peregrine falcon (an indirect reference to line 2 of the poem by Koontz) catches its prey overhead as the conversation takes place.
- The British Band Alabama 3 referred to the poem in their song "Walking In My Sleep", from their 2nd album La Peste (2000).
- British extreme metal band Anaal Nathrakh have a song entitled "The Blood Dimmed Tide", a quote from the poem.
- The band Bright Eyes makes reference to "The Second Coming" in their song "Four Winds": "It's the son of man slouching towards Bethlehem."
- Cursive, in their 2012 album I Am Gemini, references "The Second Coming" in the song "Twin Dragon/Hello Skeleton". The character Pollock claims, "I am the very Second Coming".
- In the song "Jimmy Carter", Detroit band Electric Six quotes the poem.
- Ethan James' album What Rough Beast and its title track are based on Yeats's poem.
- The cabaret performers Kiki and Herb incorporated lines of the poem into a medley of songs performed as the finale of their Carnegie Hall shows.
- The band Marillion uses the line "slouching towards Bethlehem" in the song "Gaza", from their 2012 album Sounds That Can't Be Made.
- Night Ride Home, Joni Mitchell's 1991 album, contains a song based on the poem – "Slouching towards Bethlehem".
- New Model Army's song "Here comes the War" quotes from the poem: "Faster, faster, until the Centre cannot Hold"
- Irish metal band Primordial references the phrase "slouches towards Bethlehem" in their song "God's Old Snake".
- Lou Reed quotes lines and 8 of the poem during one of the many monologues on his 1978 album Live: Take No Prisoners.
- The Roots' album Things Fall Apart takes its title from Achebe's novel, in turn taking it from the poem.
- Mentioned by one of the Hybrids in The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica
- Several episodes of the TV series Andromeda, depicting a universe in chaos following a great war, are named after phrases from this poem ("Its Hour Come Round at Last", "In the Widening Gyre", and "Pitiless as the Sun").
- In the TV series Angel, Season 4/Episode 4 is titled "Slouching Toward Bethlehem", after a phrase from the poem.
- In the Babylon 5 television series episode "Revelations", the alien G'kar quotes the poem, and is impressed by the "wisdom" of mankind.
- The television series Grimm quotes this poem in "Bad Teeth", the first episode of its second season.
- In the TV series Heroes, Season 3 Episode 1 is titled "The Second Coming", and the narrator recites the poem in the closing moments of the show.
- In "Graduation", the final episode of the TV series Kim Possible, Mr. Barkin tells Ron Stoppable that life after graduation is all downhill and "the center cannot hold". Ron has no idea what the phrase means, but he doesn't like the sound of it and it causes him a great deal of anxiety about his post-high school future with Kim.
- In the television series Millennium the pilot episode features a serial killer called the Frenchman who quotes the poem in detail, particularly the lines concerning the "ceremony of innocence".
- In the second season of the television series Quantum Leap, the episode titled "Good Morning, Peoria" Sam Beckett has leaped into the body of a radio DJ fighting to win the right to play rock and roll on the air. In a moment of nostalgia he recalls a poem from his youth that he never forgot, and quotes lines 6 to 8.
- In the television series Sons of Anarchy, the third-season episodes "Turning and Turning" and "The Widening Gyre" are named after the first line of "The Second Coming." The character Opie Winston also has "The Centre Cannot Hold" tattooed on his chest.
- In the episode "Bump and Run" from the first series of The Equalizer from 1985, part of the poem is recited by McCall and a detective in a police station.
- In The Sopranos, the episode "The Second Coming" is titled after the poem, and features it prominently, and in the episode "Cold Cuts" Dr. Melfi quotes the poem to Tony Soprano in a therapy session.
- In the TV series The West Wing, Season 6 Episode 21 "Things Fall Apart" takes its title from Yeats' poem.
- In the popular MMORPG "EVE Online", Sean Smith, one of the four Americans killed in the Benghazi attack, and known in the game as "Vile Rat", used this poem as his in-game description.
- ^ Albright, Daniel. Quantum Poetrics "Yeats's figures as reflections in Water".Cambridge University Press (1997) p.35
- ^ Childs, Peter.Modernism.Routledge (2007) p.39
- ^ Haugheny, Jim (2002). The First World War in Irish Poetry p.161. Bucknell University Press.
- ^ a b c Bloom, Harold (1972). Yeats. Galaxy. p. 318, 769. ISBN 978-0195016031.
- ^ Yeats, William Butler. Michael Robartes and the Dancer Manuscript Materials.Thomas Parkinson and Anne Brannen, eds. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press (1994).
- ^ James Traub (May 3, 2013). Foreign Policy http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/05/03/slouching_toward_damascus_kerry.
- Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven, 2004.