“The Second Coming” is a poem written in 1919 by W.B Yeats and published first in “The Dial”, an American magazine in November 1920. In same year, it appeared in the collection of Yeats’s verse called Michael Robarts and the Dancer. The poem was written during the World War- I, when multiple people were died because of the war.
The poem speaks about the coming of a new spirit and the image presented is of a brazen- winged beast which Yeats considered to be always at hand but just outside his field of vision. The Christian doctrine of Christ’s social second appearance on earth forms the basis for the poem and the title is obviously derived from Christianity. It is important to remember here that this poem was written in January 1919, and therefore shortly after the first world war and the Russian Revolution during the Black and Tan War in Ireland and just before the rise of fascism (Mussolini power started from 1922).
Thus, the poem is generally concerned with the disintegration of modern society with the spread of anarchy and the consequent violence and bloodshed.
The poem is written in 22 lines, divided into two stanzas. In the first stanza which has eight lines, Yeats talks about an abandonment of the ceremoniousness which he believed essential to a life of true dignity. For the soul to be ‘innocent’, it must be protected from the vulgarity of the market place by ritual or ceremony, and by custom hallowed tradition.
According to Yeats, as with the incarnations of the soul, the growth, maturity and decline of a civilization are divided into the 28th phases of the lunar month.
Therefore, there is a process conceived of as turning on a Great Wheel, a three- dimensional figure or sphere, which Yeats refers to as “gyres”. Through the falcon, Yeats suggests the element of cruelty n]and terror found in modern times. The falcon is not a pet but is meant for killing, and thus symbolizes death.
The second lines of the stanza suggested that in the modern times, this control has been lost and murderous instincts cannot be kept in control. There is complete chaos and no restraint. The first three lines present an oblique indirect- statements through this image of the falcon. Then suddenly comes the powerful imagery of the “tide” which is “blood- dimmed”. This age is such that even the best can not do anything, even the noblest are futile.
It is indeed a sheerly destructive age. Thus, the first stanza gives the picture of a particular age by suggesting the character of the age with the help of two images the ‘falcon’ and the ‘tide’.
The second stanza begins with a proclamation ‘surely some revelation is at hand’, and the repetition with the change from revelation to “second coming”, itself repeated in the third line, may remind us of Christ’s prophecy in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Disquiet soon felt, however when the “vast image” is presented as troubling the poet’s sight. Yeats vision has the authority of “Spiritous Mundi”.
This repulsive figure, the anti- Christ, with a lion body and a human head is spotted in a desert scene. Its eyes are remorseless and blank as indifferent as of the sun, unlike the benevolent eyes of the Christ. It is a stark and nightmarish vision. as this figure moves its beastly things, the desert birds of prey hover about it, even as darkness descends on him.
The poet infers that this horrendous figure, the signaler of new history, had been lying dormant as if in “a stony sleep” for the last “twenty centuries”, when the Christian civilization lasted. As this civilization ends with enormous violence and chaotic scenes all around, its time for this creature to come out of its “rocking cradle” and walk towards Bethlehem, when Christ was born to be born and inaugurate the new civilization.
The meaning, images and symbols of the poem are based on the geometrical figures that lie in the background. The line refers to the expanding gyre “Turning and turning the widening gyre”.
Yeats imagines a pair of antithetical gyres, locked into each other as continuing opposite progress of human history. One of the gyres or cones widening, while the other is tapering. He associates the widening gyre with the elevating fight of the falcon.
The tone of the lines is somber. “The blood- dimmed tide” is an intense image symbolizing horrific violence as well as opacity of scene that submerges and overwhelms all innocence of human kind.
The second stanza sets off an escalation in the tone, as well as takes the theme to a visionary level. It takes the readers to the desert scene to stage the “Second Coming”, not of Christ but of the anti- Christ. This figure symbolizes paganism, destruction, irrationality, passion and evil, that means values would destroy modernity or the modern civilization ruined by excessive use of reasons and rationality.
The term “spiritual mundi” is a technical coinage in Yeats’s esoteric philosophy. It refers to the “world spirit”, in a description found in “an image from a past life”, Yeats calls the “spiritual mundi”, “a general storehouse of images which has ceased to be a property of any personality or spirit.
“The Second Coming poem”, it refers to the inner eye or the creative unconsciousness out of which evolves the desert scene in which appears that for example;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs….
The poet presents nightmarish spectacle as the horrific man beast walks its animal thighs slowly towards Bethlehem to herald the onset of the new history and civilization. As it walks above it sway “the indigant desert birds”. This image connects these lines with the first stanza. The solitary falconer, who is noble and gracious, has been replaced by a group of deserts birds of prey.
In the final lines, the poem mixes the dark and nightmarish vision of the beast with the Christian myth of the Second Coming of the Christ. As if like Christ, the grotesque beast “its hour come around at last” moves towards Bethlehem to be born. But whereas Christ’s second coming is associated with the beginning of the Messianic age of happiness and peace. The rough beast signals the continuation of violent history and civilization.
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