The Second Coming – Notes
The gyre, a circular or conical shape, appears frequently in Yeats’ poems and was developed as part of a philosophical system outlined in his book, A Vision, as a model to articulates his belief that history was structures in terms of ages. He chose the image of the gyre to symbolize his philosophical belief that all things could be described in terms of cycles and patterns. The soul (or civilization, the age and so on) would move from the smallest point of the spiral to the largest before moving along to the next gyre. This image makes sense (despite it’s abstractness) when applied to the waxing and waning of a particular historical age or the evolution of a human life for youth to adulthood to old age. The symbol of the interlocking gyres reveals Yeats belief in fate and historical determinism as well as his spiritual attitudes towards the development of the souk, since creatures and events must evolve according to the conical shape. So, it becomes a shorthand reference that stands for Yeats entire philosophy of history and spiritually. Yeats saw history in symbolic and mystical terms. This is the man who, with his wife, practiced automatic writing, who believed the dead spoke through the living. It isn’t necessary to understand his occultism to understand his poetry well, but Yeats said that the voices he communicated with on the other side gave him ‘metaphors for poetry’ and ‘stylistic arrangements of understanding individual psychology and historical event.’ And this is what you need to understand.
The Great Beast
Yeats employs the figure of the great beast – a horrific, violent animal – to embody difficult abstract concepts, The great beast as a symbol comes from the Christian iconography, in which it represents darkness and evil. In The Second Coming, the great beast emerges from the Spiritus Mundi, or ‘soul of the universe’, to function as the primary image of destruction in the poem. Yeats describes the onset of...
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