The Second Coming (poem)
|The Second Coming|
|by W. B. Yeats|
|First published in||The Dial|
|The Second Coming (Yeats) at Wikisource|
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?
"The Second Coming" is a poem that was written by Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1919, first printed in The Dial in November 1920 and included in his 1921 collection of verses Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and Second Coming to describe allegorically the atmosphere of post-war Europe. It is considered a major work of modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections, including The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.
The poem was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence in January 1919, which followed the Easter Rising in April 1916, and before the British government had decided to send in the Black and Tans to Ireland. Yeats used the phrase "the second birth" instead of "the Second Coming" in his first drafts.
The poem is also connected to the 1918–1919 flu pandemic. In the weeks preceding Yeats's writing of the poem, his pregnant wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees, caught the virus and was very close to death, but she survived. The highest death rates of the pandemic were among pregnant women, who in some areas had a death rate of up to 70%. Yeats wrote the poem while his wife was convalescing.
In popular culture
Phrases and lines from the poem are used in many works, in a variety of media, such as literature, motion pictures, television, and music. Examples of works which reference "The Second Coming" (titles, quotes, etc.) include:
- Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s political manifesto The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (1949), a defence of political centrism, opens by citing the Yeats poem
- Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart (1958)
- Lou Reed in his preamble to the song "Sweet Jane" on the 1978 album Live: Take No Prisoners
- Stephen King's 1978 novel The Stand references the poem numerous times, with one character explicitly quoting lines from it
- Walker Percy’s novel The Second Coming (1980)
- Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987) says: "So the falcon's heard the falconer, huh?"
- 1990 novel Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, parodies the poem: "slouching hopefully towards Tadfield"
- The Joni Mitchell song "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" (which quotes or paraphrases almost all of the poem), from 1991 album Night Ride Home
- The episode "Revelations" (9 November 1994) of the science fiction television series Babylon 5
- The 1996 non-fiction book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline by Robert Bork
- The Roots' platinum album Things Fall Apart (1999)
- The season 6 episode "The Second Coming" (20 May 2007) of the television series The Sopranos, in which A.J. Soprano reads and quotes the poem while struggling with depression. He again quotes it in the series finale "Made In America".
- Jonathan Alter's 2013 political biography of Barack Obama, The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies also cites Yeats's poem.
- Irish musician Hozier references the poem in his song "NFWMB" off his 2018 EP Nina Cries Power.
- Junkie XL's soundtrack to Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021) features a song titled "The Center Will Not Hold, Twenty Centuries Of Stony Sleep", referencing the "second coming" of Superman after his death in the film's prequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and his subsequent resurrection in this film.
- The episode "The Queen's Speech" (S02E07) of the Apple TV+ science fiction series See (2021)
- The title of the BBC podcast series Things Fell Apart (2021) by Jon Ronson
- Economic historian Brad DeLong references the phrase "Slouches towards Bethlehem" in the title of his 2022 book Slouching Towards Utopia
- ^ a b c d e f g Lynskey, Dorian (30 May 2020). "'Things fall apart': the apocalyptic appeal of WB Yeats's The Second Coming". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
- ^ Albright, Daniel (1997), Quantum Poetics: Yeats's figures as reflections in Water (PDF), Cambridge University Press, p. 35.
- ^ Childs, Peter (2007). Modernism. The New Critical Idiom (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-41541546-0.
- ^ Haughey, Jim (2002). The First World War in Irish Poetry. Bucknell University Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-61148151-8.
- ^ Deane, Seamus (1998). "Boredom and Apocalypse". Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing Since 1790. Clarendon lectures in English literature. Clarendon Press. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-19818490-4.
- ^ Onion, Rebecca (3 May 2020). "The 1918 Flu Pandemic Killed Millions. So Why Does Its Cultural Memory Feel So Faint?". Slate. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
- ^ Spark, Claire. "Arthur Schlesinger's Missing Vital Center". History News Center.
- ^ Tabor, Nick (7 April 2015). "No Slouch". The Paris Review.
- ^ "Slouching Towards Bethlehem". Retrieved 30 January 2020.
- ^ Guffey, Ensley F.; Dale Koontz, K. (19 September 2017). A Dream Given Form: The Unofficial Guide to the Universe of Babylon 5. ISBN 9781773050508.
- ^ "The story behind The Roots' 'Things Fall Apart' album cover". faroutmagazine.co.uk. 7 February 2021.
- ^ The Essential Sopranos Reader. University Press of Kentucky. 2011. p. 75.
- ^ Diedrick, James (26 September 2015). "The Center Cannot Hold VS The Center Holds".
- ^ "Hozier Knows the World Is Ending, So He Wrote Apocalyptic Love Songs For 'Wasteland, Baby!'". Billboard. 5 May 2019. Retrieved 4 April 2023.
- ^ Mamo, Heran (12 March 2021). "'Zack Snyder's Justice League' Soundtrack Is the 'Mount Everest of Scores': See Release Date & Track List". Billboard.
- ^ Wilson, Jonathon (8 October 2021). "See season 2, episode 7 recap – "The Queen's Speech"". Ready Steady Cut. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
- ^ Sawyer, Miranda (13 November 2021). "The week in audio: Things Fell Apart; Doomsday Watch; 5 live Breakfast". TheGuardian.com.
- ^ https://econofact.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/EFChats-Transcript-EFChats-The-Long-20th-Century-Material-Progress-Rising-Inequality-and-the-Elusive-Utopia.pdf[bare URL PDF]