The Second Coming (poem)

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The Second Coming
by W. B. Yeats
Written1919
First published inThe Dial
CountryIreland
LanguageEnglish
FormLyric poetry
Publication date1920
Media typePrint
Lines22
Full text
The Second Coming (Yeats) at Wikisource
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?

"The Second Coming" is a poem 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.[1] The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and Second Coming to describe allegorically the atmosphere of post-war Europe.[2] It is considered a major work of modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections, including The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.[3]

Historical context[edit]

The poem was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War[4] 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.[5]

To understand Yeats' cosmology it is essential to read his book, A Vision where he explained his views on history and how it informed his poetry. Yeats saw human history as a series of epochs, what he called "gyres." He saw the age of classical antiquity as beginning with the Trojan War and then that thousand year cycle was overtaken by the Christian era, which is coming to a close. And that is the basis of the final line of the poem, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

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.[6][1]

In popular culture[edit]

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:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lynskey, Dorian (30 May 2020). "'Things fall apart': the apocalyptic appeal of WB Yeats's The Second Coming". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  2. ^ Albright, Daniel (1997), Quantum Poetics: Yeats's figures as reflections in Water (PDF), Cambridge University Press, p. 35.
  3. ^ Childs, Peter (2007). Modernism. The New Critical Idiom (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-41541546-0.
  4. ^ Haughey, Jim (2002). The First World War in Irish Poetry. Bucknell University Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-61148151-8.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Spark, Claire. "Arthur Schlesinger's Missing Vital Center". History News Center.
  8. ^ Tabor, Nick (7 April 2015). "No Slouch". The Paris Review.
  9. ^ "Slouching Towards Bethlehem". Google.com. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  10. ^ Guffey, Ensley F.; Dale Koontz, K. (19 September 2017). A Dream Given Form: The Unofficial Guide to the Universe of Babylon 5. ECW Press. ISBN 9781773050508.
  11. ^ Williams, Tony (2 September 2014). "Nixon – Oliver Stone's Rough Beast Slouching". Film International.
  12. ^ Hollywood Confidential. Los Angeles: Paramount Television. 1997. 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?
  13. ^ "The story behind The Roots' 'Things Fall Apart' album cover". faroutmagazine.co.uk. 7 February 2021.
  14. ^ The Essential Sopranos Reader. University Press of Kentucky. 2011. p. 75.
  15. ^ Diedrick, James (26 September 2015). "The Center Cannot Hold VS The Center Holds". Jamesdiedrick.agnesscott.org.
  16. ^ King, Anthony Stephen; Crewe, Ivor (2014). The blunders of our governments (Revised and updated ed.). London: Oneworld. ISBN 978-1-78074-405-6.
  17. ^ "John Green > Quotes > Quotable Quote". Goodreads. Retrieved 23 December 2023.
  18. ^ "Hozier Knows the World Is Ending, So He Wrote Apocalyptic Love Songs For 'Wasteland, Baby!'". Billboard. 5 May 2019. Retrieved 4 April 2023.
  19. ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (15 August 2019). "Sleater-Kinney: The Centre Won't Hold review – fighting death with sex". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 February 2024.
  20. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (30 May 2020). "'Things fall apart': the apocalyptic appeal of WB Yeats's The Second Coming". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 February 2024.
  21. ^ Mamo, Heran (12 March 2021). "'Zack Snyder's Justice League' Soundtrack Is the 'Mount Everest of Scores': See Release Date & Track List". Billboard.
  22. ^ Wilson, Jonathon (8 October 2021). "See season 2, episode 7 recap – "The Queen's Speech"". Ready Steady Cut. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  23. ^ Sawyer, Miranda (13 November 2021). "The week in audio: Things Fell Apart; Doomsday Watch; 5 live Breakfast". TheGuardian.com.
  24. ^ J. Bradford DeLong (26 February 2023). "EconoFact Chats - The Long 20th Century: Material Progress, Rising Inequality, and the Elusive Utopia" (PDF). Econofact.org. University of California at Berkeley. Retrieved 10 June 2023.

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