The Second Coming by WB Yeats

The Second Coming by WB 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: 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?

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1. What you think the most important image of the poem is?

The most important image of this poem is the sight of the civilization crashing down and undergoing various stages of disorder and degenerating prior to the coming of a “beast”.This image is created by the use of various devices, imageries and wordplays. The highlight of this imagery is a separation of the falcon from the falconer, which flies away far beyond the ear of the falconer.

2.How the poem has composed this image using the devices we have studied in class?

The poet has used various devices to give life, force and a kind of feeling of living violence to the ideas and scenes expressed in the situation. The entire poem revolves around biblical references. There are many such references as in the last line of the poem, such as the use of the terms “revelation, the Second Coming”, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born” Some of the keywords which give an intensity and impact to the turns of the phrase are “gyre, falcon, falconry,   blood-dimmed tide, the image of the half man half lion, desert shadows and birds, darkness, describing the various scenes. The poet creates a picture in us of rapidly occurring violent changes.

Some of the devices used include alliterations, allusions, metaphors, symbolism etc. Alliterations refer to the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of series of words or closely connected words which create extra impact and provide structure, flow and beauty to the writing.   Examples of alliterations include “Stony sleep, “beast Bethlehem born and ‘darkness drops’. Such usages add to the visual impact of the words.

Metaphors are literary devices in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. The poem is replete with metaphors such as “The turning and turning of the gyre” The gyre here actually means the path taken by a falcon in the sky but it also refers to the changes in times and eras, the declines and the regenerations as eras succeed each other, more or less a transitioning between order and chaos and vice versa.

Falcon-falconer usage can also be a metaphor but can be understood in different ways.  Falconry was a very respectable profession during medieval times and a loss of interest in falconry would indicate the changes occurring during the times, which would have been disturbing to those who were used to seeing falconry as a staple part of their lives. The falcon can also be used to refer to civilization and the falconer to the man and the inability of the falcon to listen to the falconer represents the breakdown of the relationship between man and nature or man and civilization or between the populace and the governance.

That the falcon cannot hear the falconer could be also a hint at the losing faith of humanity in God and turning away from God. This separation could be a hint at the declining medieval values of order, religion. As the poem has heavy biblical references, it could be mainly attributed to this.

Another important metaphor in usage is that of the infant’s sleep which is used to refer to the time gap between the first and the second coming of Christ. The words “stony sleep” is also a metaphor used to compare the restless and uneasy peace during these times too that of sleeping on a hard, rough, cold, stone.

These lines are all reflective of heavy metaphorical usage “ The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”

The “darkness drops” refers to the changes occurring, which are of a chaotic kind. There are also many biblical allusions in the poem to the second coming, the coming of the anti Christ, referred to as a beast, the term ‘anarchy’ refers to the activities of Satan,  the coming of the flood as referred to by “blood-dimmed tide”, all these words create an  image of the severe effects brought about by the coming of the anti Christ.

Symbolism is also observed in these lines.  “ 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 phrase “Spiritus Mundi” refers to the spirit world while the desert is symbolized as the place where the temptation is faced by Christ

What ideas, arguments, or problems the poem is exploring by using this image?

The poem is a reference to the Second Coming of Christ as mentioned in the Bible’s revelations.  The bible mentions the coming of the anti-Christ and the beast in the revelations part. The poem revolves around the poet’s feelings as to the coming of the anti-Christ and his view of the situation from the viewpoint of a person caught up watching the changes. It could also refer to the turbulent changes occurring in the societal system of the time, which may have been unnerving to the watcher and is described with religious fervor.

The poem is specifically about the effects brought into creation prior to the birth of the anti-Christ or a beast. And the changes are all of a negative kind, the increasing chaos, destruction, increase of anarchy, spillage of blood, wickedness is reigning supreme, innocence is lost and drowned. Maybe the poet wants to highlight the breakdown of the human race and values and morality as is evidenced by the nearing of the birth of the anti-Christ, evil portents are there. In the initial stanza, he describes the visual symbols of change and in the subsequent stanza, he attributes it to the coming to the anti-Christ and the beast…

The highlight of the poem, the image of the falcon flying off far away in increasing gyres, from the grip of the falconer, and going beyond the ear of the falconer also symbolizes a break down in systems and order as a result of changing times and is described in terms of as the effect of the coming of the Anti Christ. It could also indicate the fears of the poets about the loss of Christianity in the face of barbarism.




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