The Second Coming

The failure to restore order and justice in Europe after World War One doomed the continent to a new round of horrors. This was all too clear to many observers. In 1922, the poet William Butler Yeats captured this mood of despair in his poem, “The Second Coming”:

Exercise

  1. Why is the image of the falcon flying too far to hear its master call an apt one for the interwar years?
  2. “The best lack all convictions, while the worst/
    Are full of passionate intensity.''
    Who do you think Yeats is referring to?
  3. A time of crisis might be a sign that the Second Coming of Christ in near. But when Yeats thinks this thought, a quite different image springs to mind:
    - what stone statue with the body of a lion and the head of a man is found in the Egyptian desert?
    - what does Yeats see this statue doing?
    - what symbolic significance might it have that Bethlehem is its destination?
  4. This is a frightening poem. What words or phrases give it its dark tone?


The Second Coming
by W. B. Yeats

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 convictions, 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?

Cappelen Damm

Sist oppdatert: 16.06.2008

© Cappelen Damm AS