English Literature
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The Second Coming

The Second Coming

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Understanding the Themes in Yeats' 'The Second Coming'

In 1920, renowned poet William Butler Yeats wrote 'The Second Coming', a modernist work that utilized Christian imagery, metaphor, and allegory to depict the atmosphere in post-World War I Europe. This powerful poem has been referenced in significant literary works, including The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

Allegory, a literary device that creates a symbolic narrative with a deeper meaning, is a prominent feature in 'The Second Coming'. One of the most famous allegories is 'The Tortoise and the Hare', where the moral imperative of the story is secondary to its literal interpretation.

Upon first reading, 'The Second Coming' presents a grim landscape, reflecting the chaos and disintegration of the world after the war. Through vivid imagery, Yeats describes a falcon lost in a widening gyre, unable to hear its falconer. This represents humanity's loss of control over the events following the war. The center cannot hold, and anarchy reigns, with a blood-dimmed tide loosed upon the world. The once-innocent ceremonies have drowned, and the best lack conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. The speaker is certain that a revelation is imminent, and the "Second Coming" is at hand.

The historical context of 'The Second Coming' is crucial in grasping its meaning. Written in 1919, immediately after the end of World War I, also known as 'The War to End All Wars', the world was on the brink of another war, adding to the already uncertain and tumultuous atmosphere. At the same time, Yeats' wife Georgie Hyde-Lees was pregnant, and the couple faced additional obstacles when she contracted the Spanish Influenza. Despite these challenges, Yeats' poetic focus remained on grandiose and occult themes, evident in 'The Second Coming'.

Yeats and Hyde-Lees practiced automatic writing, a ritualistic method of writing where they believed spirits from the other realm used their bodies as a vessel to create art. Additionally, Yeats' belief in cycles of history, with each cycle lasting 2,000 years, influenced the poem's creation. As the Year of Christ was ending, Yeats saw it as a sign of a new cycle about to begin, leading to the apocalyptic tone of 'The Second Coming'.

The poem's structure follows a two-stanza format, with each stanza consisting of eight lines. In the first stanza, the speaker presents a dismal image of the world, with the falcon in the gyre representing humanity's loss of control. The second stanza begins with the speaker's belief in the imminent Second Coming, followed by a terrifying vision of a creature with a lion's body and a man's head, seemingly slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. This creature's appearance unsettles the speaker, and a darkness falls, indicating the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.

Overall, 'The Second Coming' is a profound and complex poem that relies on rich imagery and allegory to convey the chaos and unease of post-World War I Europe. Through the use of mythological and biblical references, Yeats captures the uncertainty and fear of a world on the brink of a new cycle of history.

Themes Depicted in 'The Second Coming'

When analyzing a poem, it is essential to consider the themes within the historical context of its creation. In 'The Second Coming', there are several recurring themes that reflect the atmosphere in post-World War I Europe.

One of the most prominent themes in the poem is violence, which is not surprising given the context in which it was written. Yeats, who was known for his opposition to violence, personally felt the devastating effects of WWI. He predicted that the aftermath of the war would bring about even more violence, and unfortunately, his prediction came true with the onset of WWII twenty years later. The poem vividly portrays this theme through its use of vicious imagery.

The opening lines of the poem depict a falcon being lost from its handler as the gyre (representing the end of a 2,000-year cycle) and a sphinx-like creature (symbolizing the violence and bloodshed across Europe) unleash anarchy upon the world. This loss of control over the falcon can be interpreted as a loss of humanity's connection with the natural world or its inability to prevent the progression of violence. Both failures ultimately lead to the moral decay depicted in lines 7-8. The bloody tide that sweeps the planet symbolizes the bloodshed of WWI in Europe and the failure of humanity to prevent it. This "blood-dimmed" tide drowns the "ceremony of innocence", signifying the overwhelming amount of sin and violence that has overcome humankind.

The Dark Themes and Religious Imagery in William Butler Yeats' 'The Second Coming'

'The Second Coming', a well-known poem by William Butler Yeats, is a powerful portrayal of the duality of optimism and despair through the lens of Christianity. Yeats, a known spiritualist, incorporates elements of biblical references and cyclical patterns to convey his pessimistic view of human nature and the recurring cycle of history.

The Birth of Christ and the Arrival of the Beast

The poem begins with the image of a "rough beast" slouching towards Bethlehem, a reference to the birthplace of Jesus Christ. However, this beast represents man's moral corruption and violence, threatening to engulf the peaceful town and Europe as a whole. It serves as a symbol for the speaker's bleak perspective on the nature of humanity and the loss of control over our connection with nature.

The Symbolism of the Rocking Cradle and the Second Coming

The contrast between the peaceful image of a rocking cradle, representing the birth of Christ, and the arrival of the terrifying creature, symbolizes the shift from hope and peace to destruction and chaos. The title of the poem itself, derived from the biblical event of the Second Coming, further emphasizes this contrast and suggests the beginning of a new dark cycle in history.

Water Symbolism and the Blood-Dimmed Tide

The reference to the "blood-dimmed tide" evokes biblical stories of water turning red with blood, symbolizing chaos and evil. In 'The Second Coming', this imagery signifies the destruction of innocence and the rise of destruction. This could also be interpreted as a reflection of the violence and turmoil witnessed by the poet during his time, particularly in Ireland during the Easter Rising of the 1910s.

The Cyclical Pattern of Time and History

The symbol of the gyre, a circular pattern or path, represents the cyclical nature of history and time. The speaker envisions themselves caught in a vortex, swept away and powerless as events repeat themselves. This reflects the speaker's sense of loss of control and the helplessness felt by humanity during the aftermath of World War I.

The Sphinx-Like Creature as a Symbol of Destruction

The behemoth-like creature in the poem is depicted as a mysterious and all-knowing being, much like the sphinx in literature. However, in this context, it also represents the destruction of Christianity and the rise of pagan beliefs. Its presence in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, symbolizes the end of hope and the rise of terror.

To conclude, Yeats' 'The Second Coming' is a powerful depiction of the symbolism of Christianity in the face of despair and destruction. Despite the poet's own beliefs, his use of religious imagery adds depth and complexity to this timeless work.

The Significance of "The Second Coming" Explained

The poem "The Second Coming" has been interpreted in various ways, but the most widely accepted one suggests that the speaker foresees the continuation of violence. This is based on the Christian belief of the end of a 2,000-year cycle, as referenced in the Second Coming of Christ. Filled with tones of dread, brutality, dread, and prophecy, the poem predicts the downfall of the mundane life of the early 20th century.

Written in the aftermath of World War I, "The Second Coming" portrays a dystopian future where the horrors of war linger on without end. What makes this vision even more unsettling is that it was written before the events of World War II, which ultimately proved Yeats' prophecy to be true.

Key Themes Explored in "The Second Coming"

"The Second Coming" delves into several themes, including violence, cyclicality, and Christianity. It uses symbols such as the gyre, the tide, and a creature to represent the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

As one of Yeats' most renowned poems, "The Second Coming" has earned a permanent place in literature as a powerful commentary on the state of the world.

The Reference to the Second Coming of Christ

The title "The Second Coming" is a direct reference to the Christian belief in the Second Coming of Christ. This symbolizes the speaker's terror and fear of the events of World War I, which marked the end of a 2,000-year cycle and the dawn of a new, violent era.

Allusions in "The Second Coming"

Yeats skillfully weaves in multiple allusions in "The Second Coming" to various mythologies and belief systems. These include elements from Greek mythology, such as the sphinx, as well as references to World War I and Christianity.

The Post-War Apocalypse Depicted in "The Second Coming"

"The Second Coming" portrays a stark image of post-war Europe, where the speaker envisions the end of a 2,000-year cycle of peace. They foresee a future filled with violence, which, unfortunately, comes to fruition with the outbreak of World War II.

The Writing and Intention behind "The Second Coming"

Written in 1920, "The Second Coming" was published in the wake of World War I. Yeats wrote this poignant poem while grappling with the state of a post-war Europe. He believed that the violence witnessed in World War I would persist, and sadly, his predictions came true with the onset of World War II just two decades later.

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