April 14, 2007
William Butler Yeats: “The Second Coming”
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 toward Bethlehem to be born?
–W.B. Yeats, 1921
Footnote to this poem from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 2nd Edition:
Written in January 1919, this poem reflects Yeats’s attitude toward the Black and Tan War in Ireland, where British auxiliary troops were sent in to put down the republicans. The title fuses Christ’s prediction of his second coming in Matthew 24 and John’s vision of the coming of the Beast of the Apocalypse, or Antichrist (1 John 2:18). In a letter in 1938 Yeats quoted the poem as evidence that he was not indifferent or callous towards the rise of Fascism: “Every nerve trembles with horror at what is happening in Europe. ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned.'”