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The Second Coming - A Commentary on William Butler Yeats

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Introduction

Commentary on The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats In his poem originally titled The Second Birth, William Butler Yeats issues a warning to mankind concerning the inevitability that its destructive ways will give rise to a new age of darkness and anarchy. Yeats prophesizes the impending doom of humanity through the arrival of a second holy being, arisen to void the internal fissures which cripple 20th century culture. The poem encapsulates Yeats? bleak vision of the future through violent imagery, ritualistic language, vivid symbolism, and allusions to fundamental teachings within Christianity. The Second Coming refers to the Second Coming of Christ, as predicted in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible to take place after Satan?s reign of darkness. At the time of this poem?s writing, World War I had just ended in Europe and many people started taking the idea of a ?war to end all wars? more seriously. It became hard to tell good and evil apart, where both the victors and the losers were left to survey the immense loss of human life and transformation of society. In this vacuum where disbelief and a lack of faith began to permeate, Yeats envisioned a sinister twist to the idea of the Second Coming, believing that the end of ...read more.

Middle

Yeats envisioned the primary gyre, the age of Christianity, to be at its fullest expansion and approaching a turning point when the primary would begin to contract and the antithetical enlarge. The image of falcon and falconer can easily be applied to society and God, but also to youth and morality, or people and government. Although the process of moving far away from God is part of the cycle of apostasy that the world has gone through for years, this time because the world has gotten so bad, total anarchy has formed. Instead of doing what a tide normally does ? namely growing then receding, Yeats warns that a tide of war and sin has been released upon the world in Verse 5 with the statement: ?The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.? The entire world is drowning in this flood and no one can be considered innocent. The transition between first and second stanzas in The Second Coming encompasses a shift in time, from a historical present to a prophetical future, as well as a change in certainty. Whereas the first stanza sounds confident and is riddled with declarative statements, the second sounds uncertain. The speaker sounds confident with his first use of the word ?surely?, yet he becomes less convincing with its repeated use in the next line. ...read more.

Conclusion

Later images of the sphinx in the desert seem to embody a force that is neither good nor evil, but simply indifferent. As is evident in the line: ?A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,? the sphinx in the desert is best thought of as a force of nature, caring no more about the fates of people as does the sun that shines indifferently upon all. By the end of the poem, the speaker?s question about what kind of "beast" is about to be born is merely the last sign of how far away society is from clear categories of "good" and "evil," compared to those found in the Bible. In conclusion, The Second Coming is a magnificent statement about the contrary forces at work in history, and about the conflict between the modern and the ancient world. William Butler Yeats is not afraid to tweak Biblical imagery and put it to use in his own prophetical warning to mankind about its destructive nature. The poem?s pessimistic mood and rhetorical tone serve to emphasize his importance as a moral authority in the coming age. As with the Book of Revelation, Yeats includes all kinds of memorable symbols that anyone can find meaning within but nobody can be sure of what exactly is meant. ...read more.

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