‘The Second Coming,’ by William Butler Yeats

One of my favorite poems is ‘The Second Coming,’ by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Wikipedia notes:

The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and second coming as allegory to describe the atmosphere in post-war Europe.

Two phrases that stand out to me have to do with the nature of our condition

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

and how the righteous and the unrighteous respond in that condition

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

This short poem remains important in my view since Christians today like to play end-times blackjack with cards of today’s headlines. The Bible does refer to “signs of the times,” but followers of Christ have been misinterpreting these signs for generations. The fact that a hated political opponent is in the White House does not mean Christ is returning tomorrow. Yeats’ poem of the apocalypse was written just after World War One nearly 100 years ago. My focus should be less on signs that could possibly portend Christ’s return, and more on obedience to the One who is returning.

Miss D and the second coming

Butler's 'The Second Coming' in artistic form

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?

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Christiane

    I once heard Yeat’s poem quoted in English by a rather intoxicated young Irishman at a restaurant near McGill University in Montreal. He was with a large party (also intoxicated) and they were alternately singing Celtic songs or standing up and speaking poetry. It was very entertaining, but I tell you that when that young man delivered ‘The Second Coming’ in his brogue, my blood ran cold.

    a strange poem, and like so many of Yeats’ poems, best heard when spoken aloud. And it doesn’t hurt to hear an Irishman deliver it with a proper passion for Yeats’ Irish mysticism.