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The Second Coming

Yeats
Art & Violence
Easter 1916
Second Coming
Leda and the Swan
Lapis Lazuli
Courtly Love
Auden - In Memory

I. Subject Matter Context and Background

Written during the early 1920s, this poems deals with apocalyptic times,
specifically the problems with Irish Black and Tan uprisings, but ultimately
with the much broader significance of disintegration, decline and
dissolution. The poem is full of global historical allusions from an Olympian
view that portend disaster, yet assures us that life will go on. References to
the Sphinx and Bethlehem straddle both the pagan and Judeo-Christian
religions. Yeats is very much a classicist, conservative and traditionalist and
prefers aristocratic order to anarchistic democracy.
II.Sound Effects
Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects, verbal music. Its rhyme. Rhythm and melody. Assonance,
alliteration. onomatopoeia. etc. (Blending repetition patterns. slow/fast movement, harsh, discordant, sibilance, sotto,
allegro, Rhapsodic, lyrical, elegiac, upbeat, blue, staccato, dirge, ode, Melody. tone. mood. atmosphere. voice.

The poem begins with an alarmist tone of chaos and loss of control where all
our central certainties appear to have been destroyed. Order has crumbled.
There is a strong mood of foreboding pessimism - but it is later balanced
by a detached though powerful tone of authority, gravitas and optimism; an
assurance that all is not lost and that historically we will survive any calamity.
The repetitive alliterative Surely some revelation and Surely the Second
Coming denotes a more positive assurance of continuity.
IlI. Themes, concerns, issues - values

Yeats uses the symbol of Ireland as microcosm of the rest of the world to
illustrate his eccentric view of the historical cycles. The cone has reached its
utmost expansion and the age is one of political discord.
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.
The blood dimmed tide likely refers to the slaughter of six million young
men during the First World War.
The last two lines best illustrate his opposition to modernity, populism and
change. His was a nostalgia for the ancient Ireland/World that remained
aristocratic and authoritarian an Oligarchy:
We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace

The lineaments ...


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), The Statues (l. 28-32).
The threat to order came not from Nazism or Communism (he supported
fascism and Mussolini) but from Democracy the mob this filthy modern
tide and he also supported eugenics to protect us from its formless
spawning.
While Yeats warns that the world is in the grip of anarchy and rages against
fanaticism and hatred, he does not brood over the present. He sees hope for
the future:
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
This is not the Second Coming referred to by Christians but likely from the
East. Yeats hopes that with the explosion of the cone or gyre of history some
supernatural influx will usher in a new antithetical age, classical and
aristocratic. Thus there is no need for despair.
Even though men and civilisations perish; life, especially as shown through
Art, can conquer time and will survive into the future.
IV. TECHNIQUE
Structure: linear, circular, episodic, flash backs, climactic. Images: (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile,
gustatory) figures of speech: similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, contrast, antithesis, unity, irony,
Allusions, etc

Images:
Gyres Yeats special term for his spirals of historys cycles. For a full
explanation of Yeats gyres @http://www.yeatsvision.com/Geometry.htm
Most people believe in the continuity of history or patterns of similarity, such
as George Santayanas Those who cannot remember the Past are
condemned to repeat it to which others have responded: - History does
repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the next time as farce ( Marx) and
Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up to Mark Twains
sardonic, History doesnt repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme a lot.
Falconer - fledgling falcons and other birds of were trained to return to their
masters on command by the reward of food. From medieval times the
training of falcons, as part of hunting, enjoyed the reputation of dutiful, loyal
and servile birds.
Blood-dimmed tide - War especially WWI.
ceremony of innocence Yeats loved pomp, pageantry and ceremony.
"Spiritus mundi" (literally "spirit of the world") is a reference to Yeats' belief
that each human mind is linked to a single vast intelligence, and that
this intelligence causes certain universal symbols to appear in individual
minds. We know that Yeats was anti-science and anti-rationalism, believing
that mystical visions and spiritual intuition were often more reliable.
Shape of Lion body.. a likely reference to the Sphinx in Egypt an enigmatic
pagan spiritual symbol. The simile,pitiless as the sun reveals Yeats theory
about a vast indifferent universe.
rough beast (another echo of Revelation, see Rev 13), that the beasts
hour has come round at last,
V. LANGUAGE:
Approach: Subjective/Objective, Attitude or Tone, Audience, Style: diction, word play, puns, connotative/denotative,
emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate) clichs, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat, Jargon,
euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron. Gender biases. Register: formal, stiff, dignified or Colloquial; relaxed,

conversational, inclusive, friendly or Slang; colourful, intimate, Rhetorical devices; Questions, exclamations,
cumulation, crescendo, inversion, bathos, repetition, 3 cornered phrases.

Yeats uses arcane diction words with specialised meanings to add


weight to his assertions. The word gyre refers to his personal view of the
cycles of history.
Repetition - "turning and turning", "falcon... falconer", "loosed... loosed",
"surely... surely", "the Second Coming... The Second Coming!"
revelation There is a biblical resonance to much of the language; rocking
cradle , rough beast and Bethlehem
The verb Slouches adds to the sinister aura, with its precise, feline blend of
casualness and stalking, but despite the sensuousness of this verb and of
the slow thighs, the beast has not yet been born into the physical world.
The lines:
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
likely refer to his abhorrence of populism in democracy and he may have
read Bertram Russell's quote: "The trouble with the world is that the stupid
are cocksure and the intelligent are full of self-doubt."
VI. EVALUATION:

This would have to be Yeats most famous poem. It best illustrates his
reaction to modernity and change. His was a nostalgia for the ancient
Ireland/World that remained aristocratic and authoritarian an Oligarchy:
We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments ...
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), The Statues (l. 28-32).

The threat to order came not from Nazism or Communism (he supported
fascism and Mussolini) but from Democracy the mob this filthy modern
tide and he also supported eugenics to protect us from its formless
spawning.
Yeats differs from many of his contemporary writers who appear to succumb
to despair believing that the world is on a fatal downward projectory; Yeats is
much more sanguine (positive) adopting an optimistic prescient world view
that though the west is in decline, the Orient will provide hope for the future.