William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)
99 The Second Coming
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: 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?
- The second coming of Jesus Christ—whom Yeats envisions here as an anti-Christ—on Judgment Day. ↵
- A spiral that continues to widen until it collapses. The gyre is Yeats’s symbol of a civilization spiraling out of control, at the end of its 2,000-year cycle. ↵
- The spirit of the world. Similar to Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, it is a storehouse of knowledge shared by all; here, knowledge of a saviour or demon. ↵
- The anti-Christ, similar to the Beast of the Apocalypse, described in the “Book of Revelation” in the Christian Bible. ↵
- The 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. ↵
- Wherein lay the baby Jesus. ↵
- Town in the Middle East, famous as the birthplace of Jesus. ↵