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The Second Coming William Yeats Lecture 27. About the Poem The Second Coming was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the first World War. This version.

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Presentation on theme: "The Second Coming William Yeats Lecture 27. About the Poem The Second Coming was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the first World War. This version."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Second Coming William Yeats Lecture 27

2 About the Poem The Second Coming was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the first World War. This version of the poem is as it was published in the edition of Michael Robartes and the Dancer dated 1920 (there are numerous other versions of the poem). The preface and notes in the book contain some philosophy attributed to Robartes.

3 The second coming refers to Christian prophecy in Bible Book of Revelation, that Jesus Christ will return to defeat the antichrist, overthrow evil and then establish his thousand year reign. Yeats incorporates his own view of history and future through the image of the “gyres”, cone shaped spirals that intersect so that each gyre ‘s narrowest point is contained inside the widest part of the other. The gyres represent different elemental forces in the historical cycles, or different stages in the development of human psyche.

4 Each gyre beginning in the purity of concentrated point and degenerating into chaos. In his book A Vision, he describes the gyres as intersecting cones, one widening out while other focuses in to a single point. The passage between the gyres is a transition to a new world and not the end of the world. The poem describes an apocalypse very different from the Christian vision of the end of the world.


6 The poem starts with the image of a falcon wheeling about in the sky, far away from the falconer who released it. The metaphor stands for the poet’s belief that the world he knew was coming to an end.

7 Stanza 1 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 image of falcon moving away and away from the falconer (representing control) and turning the world upside down. Image of apocalypse/disaster – the falcon cannot hear the call of safety and circles/spirals wider & wider.

8 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. More chaos : Images of sea full of blood and drowning; doubts and misguided principles are now guiding the world. He pictures the society moving towards its self-destruction and chaos – purity & innocence giving way to wickedness.

9 Stanza 2 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: a waste of desert sand; He anticipates a great change in the poem, which is encapsulated in the Christian concept of “Second Coming.” Spiritus Mundi: latin word for “wild spirit” or “spirit of the world” – yeats belief that each human mind is linked to a single vast intelligence.

10 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 Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds. An image of a beast with the head/intellect of a man and the fierce body/emotions of a beast. Images from Book of Revelation in the Bible: the lion has the predatory power, the royal strength and authority – but is pitiless and devoid of love.

11 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? Rocking cradle: image of manger of the Christ Slow moving image of the antichrist moving closer and closer to Christ’s birthplace – Bethlehem. Twenty centuries: 2000 years of cycle starting at Christ’s birth.

12 Analysis Yeats’s mythology is not easy to understand, Yeats himself did not intend its full meaning to be immediately apparent to those unfamiliar with his thoughts. He believed in cyclic view of history, which is reflected in recurrence and convergence of images as they become multiplied and enriched. The cyclical nature of Yeats conception means that there will be another antithetical annunciation in the future – the second coming not of Christ but of his antithetical opposite.

13 Analysis The poem has historical, Biblical resonances, conveys a dismayed view of the world and talks about the future. Puzzling images are presented: the Sphinx is juxtaposed with the two images of birds; First stanza: broken image of falcon dissociating from its trainer or falconer. Second stanza: broken image of many birds flying around the Sphinx, the cat, which is single whole image. (the image of Spinx – half lion & half man)

14 Inspirations for the Sphinx In late 1800s, Yeats joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult sect, where he began to experiment with magic. the Golden Dawn put emphasis not on obscure and untraceable Indian and Buddhist masters, but on the European mystical tradition, mainly the Kabbalah. the Golden Dawn encouraged its members to undertake occult experiments, "to demonstrate their power over the material universe.” Yeats spoke of it later as the chief influence upon his thought.

15 Yeats saw a close relationship between "enchantment" in magic and in literature. Again, he experimented, and met with immediate success: "Early in his acquaintance with Mathews (the leader of the Golden Dawn), the magician put the Tantric symbol of fire against his forehead, and Yeats slowly perceived a huge titan rising from desert sands. He was greatly excited because this kind of vision seemed to him to confirm his beliefs in the supernatural...

16 Soon he was experimenting upon all his friends and acquaintances, sometimes with remarkable success...”  the Sphinx in Golden Dawn was regarded as a combination of elemental forces – fire and air, or Leo (lion) and Aquarius (human)

17 In the introduction to ‘The Resurrection’ ( a short prose play depicting discussion among three men – the Greek, the Hebrew, and the Syrian, who are among the first to meet the resurrected Christ), Yeats noted: “I began to imagine, as always at my left side just out of range of sight, a brazen winged beast which I associated with laughing, ecstatic destruction” and further saying, the beast was

18 “afterwards described in my poem ‘The Second Coming.’ In another poem, ‘The Double Vision of Michael Robertes’ it takes on a Greek female form – a sphinx with woman breast and lion paws. The image of cat also suggests a great independent spirit and a heretic leader in Egypt who lived at about 1350BC and was called “the heretic Pharaoh” named Akhnaton.

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