Yeats The Second Coming as an allegorical poem

Mir Hassan

    Yeats' The Second Coming as an allegorical poem.

Yeats The Second Coming as an allegorical poem

Analyse Yeats The Second Coming’ is as an allegorical poem | An Analysis of W. B. Yeats’ The Second Coming |Is Second Coming an allegorical poem?  What is The Second Coming as an allegory? |W. B. Yeats' The Second Coming as an allegorical Poem |Allegory in W. B. Yeats' "The Second Coming" |The second coming as an Allegorical Poem 

 Yeats' The Second Coming as an allegorical poem.

W.B. Yeats’ "The Second Coming" is regarded as a masterpiece of Modernist poetry, is viewed as the most vivid record of momentary prophetic insight in a chaotic world.  It is an allegorical poem. ‘Allegory’ is a literary device that always has some hidden meaning below the surface. An allegory is also a metaphor in which a character, place, or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences.

       "The Second Coming" is an allegory of modern warfare. World War I was bloodshed of unprecedented magnitude that dramatically altered the map of the world and altered Western thinking as well. Humanity and its loss of spirituality is one of the poem's most important themes. It is explored in the second line of the poem: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer. On its surface, this line simply refers to the physical impossibility of a bird lost in and “widening gyre” listening to its falconer's instructions. However, the line really does signify how time and change have disconnected humanity from the dominant spirituality.

The falcon symbolizes contemporary society, whereas the falconer embodies the spiritual guidance that Yeats believed directed humanity. This notion was particularly relevant at the turn of the 20th century. Yeats' use of the falcon and falconer metaphor highlights the tension between modernity and spirituality. The falcon, a powerful and independent creature, represents the individualistic nature of modern society. Meanwhile, the falconer, who controls and directs the falcon's movements, symbolizes the need for spiritual guidance to navigate the complexities of modern life.

As we enter the 21st century, this tension between individualism and spirituality remains relevant. Yeats' metaphor serves as a reminder that while we may strive for independence and autonomy, we must also seek guidance and direction to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

      In the poem, Yeats describes a moral dichotomy between good people ("the best") and bad people ("the worst"). Yeats bemoans the fact that the best people have remained silent and relinquished their fate towards wicked evil. This is why the poet frankly points out that ---

“The best lack all, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

However, it is important to acknowledge that Yeats' sense of causality in the poem is not one-sided. The individuals depicted in the first stanza are not only influenced by the events occurring in the world, but they are also the root cause of these events. The emergence of the monster in the second stanza is a direct result of humanity's corruption in the first. Yeats appears to be warning that humanity's wickedness will ultimately lead to the destruction of the world.


Furthermore, in the latter half of the poem, Yeats shifts his focus from the present to the future. He contemplates the possibility of a new era, one in which a different breed of individuals will emerge. These individuals will possess a greater understanding of the world and will be able to navigate it with greater wisdom and compassion.

Yeats believes that this chaos cannot be completely accidental; It must be part of the apocalyptic proportions. It must be a second coming or the revelation that is prophesied in the Bible. The poet mentions that ---

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand”.

   The poet envisions an ugly beast, reminiscent of the Sphinx in mythology, approaching Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. This creature is half-human, half-beast, and its ominous presence looms over the holy city. The poet's vivid imagery paints a picture of impending doom as if the beast's arrival signals a dark and foreboding future. The symbolism of this creature, with its monstrous appearance and human-like qualities, suggests a deeper meaning that is left open to interpretation. Nevertheless, the poet's words evoke a sense of unease and anticipation, leaving the reader to ponder the significance of this ominous vision. He is worried about the “vast image out of Spiritus Mundi”, a collective soul or consciousness of the whole universe. In this surreal dream state, he observes the ugly creature that frightens the “desert birds”. The poet quotes that---


“Is moving its slow thighs, while about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.”

 The ominous image of birds represents the indignation of modern society toward the unhealthy and precarious state of the world. To elaborate, the birds symbolize the looming threat of environmental degradation and the urgent need for action to address this issue. The fear that this image evokes serves as a wake-up call for individuals and governments alike to take responsibility for the well-being of our planet. It is a reminder that we must prioritize sustainability and conservation efforts in order to ensure a healthy future for ourselves and future generations.

 Ultimately, the poet also believes that the antithetical beast heralds the desecration of the holy place, Bethlehem. Ironically, it opposes the Christian faith. Yeats believes that disorder would replace Christian civilization. The great devil will arrive with great terror and will overthrow the "twenty centuries of stone sleep. The arrival of a rough beast will undoubtedly be a momentous event, much like the birth of Jesus Christ was to the Old Pagan or Classical era. This occurrence will undoubtedly capture the attention of many and leave a lasting impact on history. The poem ends with a final question that boggles the reader's mind in search of optimistic hope for the next generation. He utters ----

“And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

     In a nutshell, “The Second Coming,” is the way Yeats perceives war and disaster as bringing out the worst in humanity, empowering the wicked and bloodthirsty, and disempowering good people.  In "The Second Coming," Yeats portrays a stark contrast between individuals of virtuous character, referred to as "the best," and those who exhibit immoral behavior, labeled as "the worst." This moral dichotomy serves as a central theme throughout the poem, highlighting the struggle between good and evil in the world. Yeats' use of vivid imagery and powerful language effectively conveys the weight of this dichotomy, leaving a lasting impression on readers.

Objective Question with Answer on’ The Second Coming

Q. 1. When was the poem The Second Coming first

Ans. Though the poem The Second Coming written in January 1919, was published in The Dial, later included in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), a volume of 15 poems.


Q. 2. What does the poem express?

Ans. The poem expresses Yeats' sense of horror at what might happen to our civilization. The poem prophesies the advent of a new destructive God and the reversal of Christian values.


Q. 3. What is the historical background of this poem?

Ans. Behind the composition of this poem, Yeats had in his mind the great events like the Easter Rebellion (1916), the Russian Revolution (1917), and the First World War (1914-1918).

Q.4. How many sections are in the poem? What are they dealing with?

Ans. There are two sections in the poem - the first section containing 8 lines, deals with a terrifying picture of the world's situation where obedience and order reign, innocence and faith are lost, and passion rages. The second section containing 14 lines deals with the state of the world indicating the propinquity of a Second Coming of Christ and the appearance of a Sphinx-like beast about to threaten disaster to mankind.

5) What is meant by 'gyre'?

Ans: The word "gyre", a Greek word meaning circle or spiral, symbolizes the cyclical movements in history.

6) What does "falcon" signify?

Ans. The "falcon" (a hawk), a symbol for man, represents man, present civilization, and power becoming out of touch with Christ, whose birth was the revelation that marked the beginning of Christianity. It is moving away from the Christianity of the falconer.

7)What is meant by "Spiritus Mundi"?

Ans: "Spiritus Mundi" meaning the spirit of the world is the vital force of the universe. Yeats glossed it as general store-house of images which have ceased to be a property of spirit.


8) What do you mean by "ceremony of innocence"?

Ans: "Ceremony of innocence" is the traditional and innocent way of life which favoured and fostered purity and innocence.




9) What is meant by the phrase "blood-dinned tide"?

Ans:  The phrase "blood-dinned tide" suggests the biblical Deluge which engulfed and destroyed all life in the world. Yeats perhaps implies the dreadful situation left by those great events like the First World War, the Easter Rising, and the Russian Revolution.


Q. 10. "Surely some revelation is at hand." - About what the poet is sure of?

Ans. The poet is sure that some new revelation or a new coming is very near. With the birth of Jesus Christ the first revelation, however, herald the Christian civilization. Now the second revelation is sure to become. when Christian civilization is fraught with evil and wickedness.

Q. 11. "A shape with a lion body and the head of a man." What is this 'shape'?

Ans: The 'shape' is referred to stone a sphinx in the Egyptian desert which Yeats imagines to be coming. In Egypt, it was an image of the Sun god Ra, but in Greek myth, the Sphinx was a monster that killed travelers who could not answer the riddles it asked. It is also associated with laughing, ecstatic destruction.

Q. 12 What is meant by 'twenty centuries"?

Ans: Yeats thought the Christian era, like the preceding age, was likely to be two thousand years in extent.

The Second Coming

BY William Butler Yeasts

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?

Introduction to THE SECOND COMING

The poem was written in January 1919; it first appeared in The Dial (Nov. 1920).

Its title is derived from Christian doctrine. It expresses Yeast’s reaction to the political fanaticism let loose by 'the Nationalist struggle against England in Ireland' and it prophesies "the coming of a new destructive God and the reversal of Christian values'.


Annotation on the text:  THE SECOND COMING

Gist: The falconer i.e. God has lost his The falcon i.e. the man, does not pay any heed to what God says.

As a result, anarchy accompanied by bloodshed reigns supreme. The innocent way of life is challenged and has fallen prey to this aristocrats' lack of faith and the masses indulge in anarchy. The political fanaticism and resort to violence. (Sec. III. 1-8)


Turning and turning ------  in a constant pattern of movement and counter-movement.

Gyre ---- a ring or a circle or a spiral symbolizing the cyclical movements in history. Yeats's view of history was that it moved in spiral.

The falcon cannot hear the falconer-------- the falcon (i.e. the man) turns a deaf ear to what the falconer (i.e. God) says. Man has forgotten God, and has gone astray.


Widening Gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer ------- originally the falcon was a hawk..... but these lines may derive from Dante's description of how he and Virgil reach the eighth circle of Hell seated on Geryon's back. In Cary's translation, Geryon moves in wheeling gyres:

Of ample circuit, easy they descent....

As falcon that hath long been on the wing

But lure nor bird hath seen, while in despair

The falconer cries 'Ah me! thou stoop'st to earth'.

Yeats's falcon also travels in gyres. And the Dore illustration to this part of The Vision of Hell shows Geryon emerging from the Abyss with his body shaped like the path of a gyre on a cone.  The falcon represents man, present civilization, becoming out of touch with Christ, whose birth was the revelation that marked the beginning of the two thousand years of Christianity'.

Note: The falcon.......falconer: The 'falcon' may also represent Christian civilization moving further away from Christ (i. e. the falconer).


Things fall apart ---  as a result of man’s indifference to God’s call, things are disintegrating.


Things fall apart;  the center cannot hold----- the rapid motion of the gyre (i. e. the circle) unleashes a centrifugal force that sends things flying away from the center.

 Mere anarchy-lawlessness. Yeats had 'the troubles in Ireland in mind, no doubt, as well as the Russian Revolution.

A letter was written to George Russel (AE), probably in April 1919, in which Yeats refers to his having sent Russel (who told Iseult Gonne the Russians had only executed 400 people) certain Russian comments on the figure as well as on the figure of 13,000 which was published as coming from the Russian government itself.


He continued:

What I want is that Ireland be kept from giving itself (under the influence of its lunatic faculty of going against everything which it believes England to affirm) to Marxian revolution or Marxian definition of value in any form. I consider the Marxian criterion of values as in this age the spearhead of materialism and leading to inevitable murder. From that criterion follows the well-known phrase 'can the bourgeois be innocent?"

Blood-dimmed tide ------ streams of blood are flooding the earth. The ceremony of innocence-'ceremony because in ceremony alone lies the vestiges of the sort of order Yeats briefly found at Coole Park [ Lady Gregory's home, the place where he frequently sought relief  from his troubles ], innocence because innocence alone opposes all the sexual and social violence symbolized by the blood-dimmed tide. (John Unterecker).

 The best- ----- the aristocrats. Yeats was an aristocrat in his political beliets.

Cf The good want power, but to weep barren tears,

The powerful goodness want .... (Prometheus Unbound 11.625-8)

 The worst --- the masses. Passionate intensity-political fanaticism and violence.

Comment: January 1919 was the month in which the Irish Constituent Assembly, comprising the elected Irish M. Ps. from West- minster, met independently, in defiance of England, to declare its Republican sympathies, an act which provoked the formation of an English security force, nicknamed the Black and Tans, which are to be responsible for the 'Terrors' of the next two years.Raymond Cowell


Gist: The state of affairs now prevailing in the world forebodes the Second Coming i. e. a supernatural disaster. A sphinx-like beast with the head of man and the body of a lion is seen emerging as a threat to the existence of mankind. (Sec. II II. 9-22)


Lines 9-22: Some revelation -----  the state of the world points to the possibility that some revelation i.e. the Second Coming i.e. a supernatural invasion, is impending. Literally speaking, 'revelation' means the truths that man knows only from God. The poet contemplates an annunciation, a revelation heralding the coming of an age that will reverse all the achievements of the Christian era.

The Second Coming ----- a supernatural invasion. Actually Yeats being an aristocrat in his political beliefs foresees the horror of ‘the world of democracy and science which is coming birth'.


 The Authorised Version gives us many a passage discussing the succession of civilizations

Each age unwinds the threads another age had wound, and it amuses me to remember that before Phidias, and his westward moving art, Persia fell, and that when the full moon came round again, amid eastward moving thought, and brought Byzantine glory, Rome fell; and that at the outset of our westward moving Renaissance Byzantium fell; all things dying each other's life, living each other's death.

The new era looked likely to be one of irrational force, as another passage pointed out."


Spiritus Mundi ----- (Latin) the spirit of the world; Yeats glossed it as a general storehouse of images that have ceased to be a property of any personality or spirit.

 Troubles my sight ----- Yeats told Lady Gregory that the new incarnation would not appear for another two hundred years. But later he spoke of its imminent murderousness a man-this points to the stone of the world'.

A shape ….. man ----  this pints to ‘ the stone  sphinx in the Egyptian desert which Yeats imagines to be coming alive. In Egypt, it was an image of the sun God Ra, but in Greek myth, the sphinx was a monster that killed travellers who could not answer the riddles it asked.

It may also be the brazen-winged beast Yeats imagined (and described in the introduction to his Resurrection as associated with mugging, ecstatic destruction."

Ure has pointed out that this beast probably is derived from Years' experience with Macgregor Mathers's symbolism and quotes Yeats's account of how Mathers gave him a cardboard symbolism and he closed his eyes:

"Light came slowly, there was not a that sudden miracle as if the woman's privilege, but there rose before me mental images that I darkness had been cut with a knife; for that miracle is mostly a could not control: a desert and a black Tran raising himself up by his hands from the middle of a heap of ancient ruins. Mathers explained that I had seen a being of the order of Salamanders because he had shown me their symbol.........


A gaze........ the sun-the Creature is a monster, a supernatural form and therefore is beyond our moral concern with good and evil. Hence the phrase blank and pitiless.' (V. Sachithanandan).

 Reels ….birds ------- the wheeling movement of the falcon rising higher and higher in the first stanza and the desert birds here reeling round the sphinx remind us of the pattern of the double interpenetrating gyres. The birds, which are witnesses of the terrible incarnation, treat it with both contempt and horror. Yeats humanizes their reaction with the use of the word 'indignant.' They may also have the ominous aspects of birds of prey.' (V. Sachithenandan)


 Desert birds ----- these have the ominous aspect of birds of prey; they picked bones bare in Calvary. Twenty centuries-Yeats regarded the Christian era as consisting of two (2) thousand years, like the era that preceded it.

 Rocking cradle ---- the cradle was that of Jesus Christ. Christ's birth in Bethlehem ushered in the Christian period of history.

Rough beast ------  the possibilities of the beast are endless. This may be the man-headed sphinx or the brazen-winged beast or may be the beast as described in The King's Threshold:

He needs no help that joy has lifted up

Like some miraculous beast on of Ezekiel.

Professor A. M. Gibbs has suggested parallels between the 'rough beast' of this poem and the 'rough beast' as described in Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece. Slouches-awkwardly moves.



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