The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Q. Critically analyse the poem The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats.

“The Second Coming” is a poem by W.B. Yeats, published in his 1928 collection “The Tower.”

The poem opens with the image of a falcon losing communication with its falconer, symbolizing a loss of control and a breakdown in the natural order.

The phrase “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” is particularly famous. It suggests a world in disarray, where traditional structures and beliefs fail.

The Second Coming

The poem’s title and some of its imagery are drawn from Christian eschatology, but Yeats uniquely reinterprets them. The “Second Coming” refers to Christ’s return in Christian belief.

However, Yeats uses it to describe a new epoch in human history, characterized by a rough, monstrous creature stirring in response to the world’s anarchy.

The Gyre

Yeats often used the symbol of the gyre, a spiral or vortex, to represent historical cycles. In the poem, he suggests that one cycle of history is ending, and a new, uncertain one will begin.

The Sphinx

The “rough beast” slouching towards Bethlehem to be born, a creature with a lion’s body and a man’s head, is reminiscent of the Sphinx. This symbolizes something primal, ancient, and terrifying that is coming to redefine the world order.

Apocalyptic Tone

The poem has an apocalyptic tone, suggesting that the world is on the brink of a cataclysmic change. It reflects the post-World War I sentiment, where many people felt that the old order had been destroyed and were uncertain and fearful about what was coming next.

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 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.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre.

The opening line of The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats introduces a central metaphor of the poem within the context of Yeats’s work and philosophy.


In Yeats’s philosophy, a gyre is a spiral or vortex. He used it as a metaphor for historical, spiritual, and metaphysical concepts.

Yeats envisioned history as a series of spirals or cycles, each expanding from the previous one. His interest influenced this concept in mysticism and the occult.

Turning and turning

This repetition emphasizes history and time’s continuous, perhaps relentless, movement. It creates a sense of motion and, when combined with the image of the widening gyre, suggests an increasing loss of control or stability.

Widening gyre

The widening of the gyre suggests a move away from a centre or a point of origin. In Yeats’s vision, this could symbolize the movement away from a cultural or spiritual centre.

It indicates a period of upheaval or transition. As the gyre widens, its centre can no longer hold, leading to the chaos described in the subsequent lines of the poem.

The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

In falconry, the relationship between the falcon and the falconer is one of close communication and control. The falcon, trained to hunt and return on command, symbolizes order and discipline within nature.

Loss of Communication

The line “The falcon cannot hear the falconer” metaphorically suggests a communication breakdown. This breakdown is not just between a bird and its trainer but represents a more extensive disconnection within society between people and their guiding principles.

The falcon’s inability to hear the falconer symbolizes a loss of control and the onset of chaos. In a broader sense, it implies that humanity has lost touch with the moral, spiritual, or social forces that traditionally guided it.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

Things fall apart
This phrase suggests a disintegration of the social, political, or moral order. It evokes an image of a society or system breaking down, unable to maintain its coherence and structure.
The centre cannot hold

It could represent a moral or spiritual anchor, a central authority, or shared values or beliefs.

The inability of this centre to “hold” indicates a failure to provide stability and order. It suggests the collapse of the foundational principles that keep society together.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

“Mere” emphasizes pure, unadulterated anarchy, which means a state of society without government or law in its literal sense.

Loosed upon the world

This phrase implies that anarchy has been unleashed or set free as if it were a force that had been contained but has now been released. It shows as though this force has overwhelmed the world without warning.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere.

“Blood-dimmed” suggests a tide or wave clouded, obscured, or coloured by blood, implying widespread violence or conflict.

The word “tide” can imply an overwhelming, uncontrollable force, much like the natural tide, but in this case, it is a tide of blood, symbolizing widespread destruction or suffering.

“Loosed” again suggests that this violent, bloodied tide has been unleashed or released, emphasizing a lack of control or restraint.

“Everywhere” implies that this is not a localized event but a global or widespread phenomenon.

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The word “ceremony” implies something formal or sacred, indicating that innocence was once respected or cherished as a valuable aspect of society or human life.

The use of “drowned” is striking. It indicates not just a loss or fading away of innocence but a forceful, overwhelming obliteration.

This drowning could be metaphorical, suggesting that innocence is submerged or destroyed by the prevailing forces of chaos and violence depicted in the poem.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst.
Are full of passionate intensity

“The best” refers to society’s most morally upright, wise, or rational members. Yeats observes that these individuals need to be more confident.

In times of turmoil, thoughtful and considerate people may become doubtful and indecisive, perhaps overwhelmed by the pervading sense of despair and confusion.

While the worst

“The worst” suggests those individuals who are morally corrupt, misguided, or extremist in their views and actions.  However, the implication is clear that these individuals are, in contrast to “the best,” full of a specific negative energy or force.

This juxtaposition paints a picture of a world where the more destructive elements in society are the most driven and enthusiastic.

It implies that those with the most dangerous, extremist, or morally corrupt views are also the most fervent and active in pursuing their agendas.

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: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with a lion’s 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?

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely, the Second Coming is at hand.

The repetition of “Surely” at the beginning of each line emphasizes a firm belief or expectation that significant events are unfolding. ”

Some revelation is at hand” suggests that the speaker anticipates a moment of grand unveiling or disclosure, perhaps of a truth or a new reality.

The Second Coming

The Second Coming” directly refers to Christian eschatology, which denotes Christ’s prophesied return to Earth. However, Yeats uses this term not in a strictly religious sense but as a metaphor for an impending epochal event.

Given the poem’s context, which depicts a chaotic world, this “Second Coming” is implied to be a tumultuous and perhaps destructive event rather than a salvific one.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight

This suggests that as soon as the speaker mentions “The Second Coming,” something immediate and almost reflexive happens. It is as if the mere utterance of these words triggers a robust response or revelation.

Spiritus Mundi

Spiritus Mundi is a term Yeats used to refer to the collective spirit or soul of the universe, encompassing humanity’s collective memories and experiences.

The phrase “a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi” implies that the speaker is tapping into this universal consciousness, and a significant vision or image emerges.

The “vast image” emerging from this collective consciousness implies that the vision is personal and universal.

Troubles my sight

The vision that appears is not comforting; instead, it “troubles” the speaker’s sight, suggesting that the revelation or insight gained from this vision is disturbing.

In these lines, Yeats is transitioning from the general to the specific, from the anticipation of some profound change (“Surely the Second Coming is at hand”) to an actual vision emerging from the collective human consciousness.

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

This line is part of the description of the “rough beast,” Yeats introduces as slouching towards Bethlehem. The slow movement of the beast’s thighs suggests something inevitable and relentless in its approach.

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

This line continues the portrayal of a chaotic and disturbing scene. The “indignant desert birds” create an image of nature in disarray or protest.
The word “reel” implies a sense of uncontrolled, chaotic motion, enhancing the atmosphere of disintegration and disorder.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

This line suggests a return to darkness, implying a cyclical pattern of events. The phrase “but now I know” indicates a moment of realization or insight on the speaker’s part.
The speaker has presumably gained some understanding of the nature of the changes happening in the world.

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

This line likely refers to the approximate two thousand years since the birth of Christ, symbolizing a long period of relative stability or inactivity in terms of profound transformative change on a metaphysical or spiritual level.

The “stony sleep” metaphor suggests something latent, unyielding, or dormant.

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle

The “rocking cradle” may symbolize the birth of Christ, an event that disrupted the old order and initiated a new era in human history.

The idea that this event “vexed to nightmare” the preceding centuries suggests that the new era (Christian era) introduced conflicts, challenges, and changes that disturbed the existing order of things.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

The “rough beast” is a central symbol in the poem, representing a new era or force about to be born into the world.

The phrase “its hour come round at last” suggests that this moment has been long anticipated or is part of a predetermined cycle.

“Rough” implies something primal, untamed, and perhaps threatening.

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


It is the birthplace of Jesus Christ and is symbolically significant. By using Bethlehem as the destination of this “rough beast,” Yeats contrasts the Christian savior, whose birth traditionally symbolizes hope and salvation, and this new, menacing creature whose birth suggests a darker turn for the world.

The verb “slouches” adds to this new era’s ominous and somewhat lethargic yet inexorable approach.

End of an Era
The “rough beast” symbolizes the end of the Christian era or its associated values, suggesting a radical shift in the world’s moral and social order.
Cyclical View of History
Following Yeats’s interest in cyclical theories of history, this new beast might represent the beginning of a new cycle, perhaps darker or more chaotic than the previous.

The Title 

Yeats’s use of this title is ironic. Instead of depicting the return of Christ, the poem describes the arrival of an ominous, beastly figure, suggesting a future that is foreboding rather than redemptive.

The title of W.B. Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming,” evokes the Christian concept of Jesus Christ’s return. However, the poem, mainly through its conclusion with the “rough beast” slouching towards Bethlehem, subverts this traditional expectation.

Instead of the anticipated return of a saviour, the poem presents the arrival of a monstrous, chaotic force.


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