Should ‘the Second Coming’ Be Considered Worthy of a Place in the Western Canon?

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Should ‘The Second Coming’ be considered worthy of a place in the Western canon?

Considered to be one of Yeats’ finest works and a masterpiece of modernist poetry, The Second Coming has gained prestigious status among literary critics, in part for its powerful social and political observations but also Yeats’ masterful use of visual symbolism, intensifying a prominent emotional component in the poem. Its observations on humanity have made it one of the most enduring poems of the 20th century. The certainty with which Yeats writes creates a weighty argument: “Surely the Second Coming is at hand” and paints the perfect picture of a society falling into chaos. As a piece of popular literature, The Second Coming has seen little in the way of rivalry. Frequently used as a reference for other writers, e.g. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Woody Allen’s Mere Anarchy, the poem has become renowned for its sophisticated phrasing and frighteningly convincing descriptions.

Contextually, the poem is massively significant. Written at the time of the Russian revolution, Easter Rising, and ‘War to end all wars’, Yeats’ representation of a crumbling civilisation was timed perfectly. The poem depicts startling images of future violence making it, for many, disturbingly prophetic in light of the rise of fascism leading to the Second World War. Those who are familiar with Yeats’ work will be aware that he is not recognised as a depressive writer, much of his work being uplifting and reassuring. This only adds to the power of the poem, as well as defining Yeats’ as one of the most distinguished writers of the 20th century.

One of the most important features of the poem is its universality. Anyone can relate to it, in that everyone was affected by the turmoil in early 20th century Europe. In no way is the poem elusive or indecisive, it aims to stir and leave the reader feeling unsettled, almost punch-drunk, in that the language is so brutal and direct.

The poem is...
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