William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)

99 The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats


Turning and turning in the widening gyre[2]
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[3]
Troubles my sight:  somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,[4]
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[5]
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,[6]
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem[7] to be born?


  1. The second coming of Jesus Christ—whom Yeats envisions here as an anti-Christ—on Judgment Day.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The anti-Christ, similar to the Beast of the Apocalypse, described in the “Book of Revelation” in the Christian Bible.
  5. The 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.
  6. Wherein lay the baby Jesus.
  7. Town in the Middle East, famous as the birthplace of Jesus.


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