Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Second Coming by 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?

I spent most of St. Patrick's Day reading and lesson planning for Lord of the Flies.  This classic Yeats poem rose in memory: an alternate dark confluence. 



Dana - Let's Book It said...

Thank you for the poem. I love poetry and enjoy finding it on other blogs.

Enbrethiliel said...


This is a familiar poem to me, but there was something stark and startling to me when I reread it in your post just now. The line about the falcon losing the falconer--and possibly not even knowing what it is doing--is so haunting all of a sudden. And the contrast between the best and the worst made me gasp a little, because I know exactly what he means.

I'm not sure why I find the second stanza so disconcerting. The mythical/apocalyptic imagery and the closing imagery of a birth bother me a little. I guess I want the world to fall apart more systematically than that--as it would if it were merely "turning and turning in the widening gyre" and letting entropy do its work. But then it wouldn't be the Second Coming, would it?

Laurie said...

D - Let's keep in touch, and - if you wish - share poems on our blogs regularly.

E - Your commentary is both astute and close-to-the-bone, as ever. Rereading this poem in the context of Lord of the Flies has truly opened up its darkest layerings for me. Although teaching LotF is always a worthwhile experience for me and my students, it does require a certain mustering of fortitude to contemplate these dark visions. Somehow, Yeats's more abstracted/allusive work allows me more psychological breathing space than Golding's fiction.
And, nope: I suppose it wouldn't.

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