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A Brief Introduction of The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats in his poem, The Second Coming, has portrayed a succinct description of the current situation of the world. The year when this poem was written, the world saw new inventions in the form of the motorcar and the small aircraft. The world was also in an uproar considering the revolutions in various parts of the world including the Easter Uprising of 1916, The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the First World War from 914 to 1918. The poem symbolises the horror that the people of the world underwent during this period and has thus been aptly named as the Second Coming (Katzenstein, 2018). The death rate of the wars demoralised the survivor which has been succinctly captured by the poet in his lines of the Second Coming. The great shift in the world was captured through words and art by many poets and artists of the time and Yeats was one of them.

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Yeats has paid homage to the era in his words through the Second Coming. The poem is rife with imagery from Christianity and derives much inspiration from the apocalyptic ideology. The current situation of the world, the emotions of the people and the general consensus that the world was coming to an end, has been perfectly captured by Yeats in this poem. The foundations of knowledge and compassion had been shaken by the First World War and dubbed as the ‘war to end all wars’, the First World War changed the perception of many (Aman, 2021). The poem presents a vacuum of the mind where it is incapable of thinking about a time before the war.

Summary of The Second Coming

The poem utilises the power of imagery to present a muted version of apocalypse. The world must surely be coming towards a revelation and the poem is prophesying the notion. The poem’s form is a rough rendition of iambic pentameter and the exceptions are too frequent, almost close to the free verse style with frequent and heavy stress on some words. The rhymes are not uniform, haphazard in nature and there are a handful of coincidental rhymes in the whole poem. The violent imagery, stunning words and petrifying ritualistic language is difficult to comprehend due to its thematic obscurity (Walsh, 2019). The poem begins and ends with a sense of impending doom and the current pre-apocalyptic condition of the world.


Anarchy, things falling apart and the blood-dimmed tide are all imagery utilised to induce fear and anxiety in one’s mind. The first stanza of the poem is descriptive and illustrates the current conditions of the world, while the second stanza of the poem is a foretelling of the events to come and is prophesying that a new prophet, a rough and ghastly beast is expected to be born in Bethlehem, a complete opposite of what Jesus Christ represented. The blasphemous prophecy is a brief exposition and promotes an open concept and leaves room for the reader to make his or her own interpretations (Pandey, 2020).


In his book, A Vision, Yeats has presented a mystical and elaborate theory of the universe and is represented in this poem too. Yeats’ fascination with the mystical and the occult is representative of the derailment from a structured belief system, which he has adequately demonstrated in the poem The Second Coming. The gyres mentioned in the beginning lines of the poem are related with the theory of history that Yeats has demonstrated in his book A Vision. He has described the theory of history to be two spirals one inside another and thus the name gyres, utilised in the poem. He held the belief that the contrary motions of history is captured through this image. In terms of the gyres, Yeats hinted that the world was at the verge of an apocalyptic revelation as history is ending and a new era might begin (McDonald, 2020).


In The Second Coming, Yeats has demonstrated a direction that the new world is facing, a horrific world as it is currently passing through a pre-apocalyptic era. The poem is interspersed with the cultural, spiritual and political decay and subsequent regeneration. The poet believes that a Second Coming is arriving and the anarchy that the world is going to witness, is not far. The poem resonates through the cultural decays of the globe and the changing nature of the same (Nassar Mohamed Abdallah, 2017). The world is about to be changed through the chaos and violence of the war. The interlocking gyres are expanding to catalyse the very existence of the history of the world. The change to be witnessed is putting humans in a disillusion and has thus resulted in a loosening away from the centre. The distance from the centre is symbolising the liberation of the people of the world from the ancient conventions and traditional beliefs and practices. The premonition is thus focused on humanity facing apocalyptic end (Mohammed and Hasan, 2017).


The major themes in the poem includes the meaninglessness, prophecy, violence and impending doom of the world. The idea included in the Second Coming is not Biblical. Yeats presents an idea that the Second Coming will not save the human race but add to the agony and destruction of the world. The chaos evident in the current state of the world is representative of the future being unrealistically bleak. The wish for spiritual guidance is also futile in this case since the Second Coming is not a saviour in this case (Mahbub, 2019). Since humankind is moving away from the centre, it is clear that the world is in a state of termination.


The poem can be considered as a wakeup call for the entire human kind regarding the futility of their actions in the quest for power and sovereignty. The current pandemic situation of the world can also be related with the imagery presented by the poet in this poem. The poem aids the readers understand the gravity of the global condition at that time and the subtle hint that the condition might change and turn for the better in future.

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