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William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" is filled with metaphoric imagery that reflects the tumultuous times of Yeats' Ireland as well as its actual physical geography.

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Introduction

William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" is filled with metaphoric imagery that reflects the tumultuous times of Yeats' Ireland as well as its actual physical geography. As a poet, Yeats was greatly in tune with his Irish roots and brings those strands together often in his work. Yeats was born in 1865 in Dublin, Ireland. He was the son of a painter and grandson to a rector in the Church of Ireland. At a very early age, young Yeats was exposed the myths and fairy tales of the Irish countryside while spending time at his grandparents' home. (Cahill 20) It is obvious that much of his poetry, especially that written during his early years, was written out of the Irish influence of his childhood. Jonathan Allison in his essay "W.B. Yeats, Space, and Cultural Nationalism" states that, "Homelands are important bases for ethnic survival, not only because they delimit communal boundaries, but also because of the poetic landscapes they offer to members of even the exiled ethnic." (58) The landscape and influences of Yeats' childhood were obviously major factors in his writings. Yeats' is quoted as saying that, "The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that think and all that I write." ...read more.

Middle

It does say that one can longer feign innocence to the problems between Ireland and England because of the bloody war that had erupted. In the next two lines Yeats makes one of the most profound statements of political activism that has ever been put onto paper. He states that, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." He was incredibly qualified to speak on the issue of passion for right and actively participating in what one believes in. Yeats had no qualms about using his notoriety as a writer to push his political causes, and he was very influential in the push that eventually led to Irish independence in 1922. He was also a great friend of Irish nationalist John O'Leary who had been sentenced by the British to 20 years servitude in 1865 for treason against the Crown. (Moses 59) He skillfully laments the fact in these lines that those who push towards a goal for the worst motivations seem to be incredibly passionate while those who truly have the best interests of other's at heart tend to be too passive. Yeats' Anglo-Irish Protestant childhood comes into play in the next line as he begins to make reference to the Biblical book of Revelations and the second coming of Christ: Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. ...read more.

Conclusion

(Cervo 94) The analogy between the beast and imperial England is seen further as Yeats paints a picture of the lion's eyes. They stare blankly and are pitiless as the sun. We already have desert imagery at work in the poem. The desert sun has pity for no man or beast. It burns up all that is under its blazing gaze. The sightless eyes are in reference to England's careless use of power to subjugate weaker nations in order to bring economic prosperity. A feeling of blindness by those in power is a feeling that all men and women under authority have felt at times. To Yeats, England's blindness to the plight of those experience its colonial weight was particularly glaring. Yeats uses the phrase, "moving its slow thighs" to create a sense of the size and power of English might. It is a vast empire moving slowly over the desert, seeking its own satisfaction at the expense of those less powerful. The reeling desert birds can be viewed in two different ways. One might view the birds as those following the path of the beast in order to strip the carcasses that are left behind for their own profit. The birds might also be seen as representative of the birds of scavenging that always follow where there has been war and death. Yeats ends the poem with some amazingly deep and interesting lines. ...read more.

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