In this world we have made, with so many people grown so deeply disheartened, there is much to ponder in this ever-popular poem by William Butler Yeats. He wrote it in 1919, when violent echoes of the Great War, the Easter Rising, and the Russian Revolution still resounded and tormented the ears of humanity.
If that history seems too ancient and remote to be relatable, I point out that, at the time, my parents were eager minded ten-year-old students, coming sufficiently into their awareness of world events so as to share some of Yeats’ foreboding.
For nearly a hundred years, “The Second Coming” has resisted earnest attempts at definitive interpretation. Many have fallen into the simplistic trap of is obvious biblical cant.
As for me, I forego any desire to interpret it. However, apocalyptic themes notwithstanding, I find it a joy to read it, to recite it, to use it as reminder and means of reflection upon the human condition. I suspect I’m not alone in that joy.
The Second Coming
by William Butler 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 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: a waste of desert sand;
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
Wind 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?