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Apocalyptic Vision Of The Second Coming

1283 words (5 pages) Essay in English Literature


 5/12/16  English Literature  Reference this
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William Butler Yeats is often considered one of the finest poets in the English language.
He was born in Dublin, Ireland to Irish-Protestant parents. His father was a painter who
influenced the poets’ thoughts about art. Yeats’s mother shared with him her interest in
folklore, and astrology. He won the Nobel Prize in literature. Yeats died in France in
1939. William Butler Yeats began his poem, “The Second Coming” in 1919 right after
World War One. It is important to note that Yeats did not believe in Christianity. Magic
and occult theories are important elements in Yeats’s work. Yeats created an imaginary
but believable religion that was cyclical. In “The Second Coming” Yeats shows us a vision
of full of apocalyptic, ritualistic and mystical symbolism.
“The Second Coming” begins with a feeling of loss of control. “Turning and turning in
the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”(Yeats 1,2). Yeats wrote “The
Second Coming” while most of the world was recovering from World War I. Yeats saw
the trouble all around himself, and everything spinning out of control. The falcon
representing man and the falconer representing God is symbolizing a man turning away
from God and of the chaos that was there at the end of the war. The “gyre” is an
important symbol in Yeats’s poetry; it stands between two historical time’s harmony and
chaos.
The next two lines, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed
upon the world”(3,4) invokes a deeper feeling of loss of control. The first line shows the
images of the more chaos that will come. The poem then changes into a description of
“anarchy” and violence in which “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The speaker is
troubled that only bad people seem to be enthusiastic now. “To Yeats, the Second
Coming grotesquely sketched in the poem is hardly the Christian Parousia, the
celebration of the universal presence of the Savior coming on clouds of glory to judge
the world.” (Carvo).
“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is
drowned”(5,6) describes a scene of violence and terror. This line can be a metaphor for
the chaos that came at the end of the war, and all of the destruction that came with it.
“By presenting its ferociously partisan sentiments in the guise of disinterested cosmic
vision, a poem such as “The Second Coming” seeks endorsement for its reactionary
sentiments, and encourages readers to find confirmation for their local prejudices in the
commanding universal statements of art, when those statements are in fact as local,
particularised, and prejudiced as the readers”. (Smith).
The last two lines in the first stanza of the poem are “The best lack all conviction, while
the worst are full of passionate intensity.”(7,8) If “the best lack all conviction,” is there
any way that they are good? Believing in something enough to take action on it is a part
of what being good is about. Reversely, “the worst” have all the “intensity” on their side,
which is good for them, but not for everyone else. After the war, things were so chaotic
that you could not tell the good and the bad apart.
The second stanza of the poem begins by showing the reader a new vision “surely some
revelation is at hand”(9). The speaker has a vision that the violence that is engulfing all
the society as a sign that “the Second Coming is at hand.” It is a revelation, of something
which is unveiled.
In the next lines, “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”(11,13) the
speaker has a vision that the savior is here. The Spiritus Mundi, symbolize spirit of the
world or the collective consciousness. The speaker, through his connection to the world,
is giving a glimpse in to a vision that shows him “somewhere in the sands of the
desert.”(13). The speaker sees “A shape with lion body and the head of a man”(14). This
can symbolize the sphinx, or mythical creature “A shape with lion body and the head of
a man.”(15) He could also be describing the beast from the book of Revelations.
The speaker then sees this shape “A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert
birds”(15,17). By calling its gaze “pitiless,” maybe he doesn’t mean evil of that it has bad
intentions. It could be that pitiless makes it have a expression that is not human. The
slowness of its thighs adds to the impending feeling of doom the beast provides.
After the speaker has his vision from the Spiritus Mundi, “The darkness drops again; but
now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking
cradle”(18,20). The speaker was left with a strong prophetic vision. The speaker has an
idea of something he didn’t know before, specifically, that this strange beast is a symbol
that will affect the future. These lines directly relate to the end of the war, and the
magnitude of destruction that was seen during WWI, especially the advancements in
that can only progress to bring more destruction.
“The phrase with which the poem ends emphasizes that this is a new beginning as well
as a (possibly deserved) end, and Christ’s rocking cradle, vexing stony sleep to
nightmare, is hardly a positive image of the order now to be overthrown”.(Smith). The
poem ends with the question, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”(21,22) The object of the speaker’s vision,
which was before described as a pitiless beast, is now described as a “rough beast” on
its way to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. Yeats is using the story of the birth of
Jesus in Bethlehem as a metaphor of the passage of this beast from the spirit world to
the real world, where the results of its appearance will be experienced by all the people.
By making the last lines of the poem a question, Yeats very much leaves it up to the
readers imagination to determine what he might be describing. In the time since Yeats
wrote the poem, the beast could have been taken as a prediction of all of the bad that
the past century has seen, especially all of the horrors of recent wars and the
advancement in weapons technology. Yeats seemed to have an idea that things were
still getting worse while many of his contemporaries around him thought things were
improving. “To Yeats, the spirit of this world (the inversion of Spiritus Mundi) finds its
metonymic expression in the Museum lions, and the extent of its vision is signaled by “A
gaze blank and pitiless as the sun”(Carvo).
We can see that this work is generally viewed as a revelation of the end of the historic
era. “The Second Coming” is one of Yeats’s most commented poems. Many scholars are
of the opinion that this poem is a great example of Yeats’s apocalyptical and cyclical
interpretation of history; “The Second Coming” is regarded as a masterpiece of modern
poetry and is variously interpreted by scholars, whose main goal is to unfold its mystical
and apocalyptical symbolism. “Yeats may appear a poseur, an impractical Quixote, a
gullible attender at seances, a dabbler in the occult, a hierophant of a religion he has
himself constructed.”(Stauffer).