“The Second Coming”, written by William Butler Yeats, was published nearly one year after the end of the First World War, and during a time when many traditional ideas were being questioned and overturned. Those who lived through the war felt that it was catastrophic (nine million people lost their lives), while still others felt the reasons for going into war were ill conceived. In the end, many were not convinced that “the war to end all wars” had actually solved anything. “The Second Coming” could be viewed as Yeats’ own commentary on what was thought to be the end of a dying era, and the beginning of more progressive one. While Yeats believes that the upheaval he’s depicting in his poem is necessary, recurring, and inevitable, he fears what it may cost society, and is very ambivalent about what the future holds.
In the first half of his poem, Yeats paints a picture that many can relate to the end times, found in the book of Revelations of the Christian Bible. Written in prose, he describes the end of the existing world order, brought forth by death, war, destruction, and chaos. The disastrous event Yeats describes in his poem is foreordained with the image of a gyre, or wheel. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre” (1) literally means that a big wheel is turning. This wheel could also be considered along the lines of a Wheel of Fortune card in a tarot deck, meant to reflect destiny, fate, superior forces, or movement. In the second line, Yeats describes the chaos around him with the imagery of the falconer who’s lost control of his falcon, followed with the line “Things fall apart;…” (3). Falconry, once considered a symbol of high status during the medieval time period, could possibly indicate a shift in social and class structures. The image Yeats may be depicting is that of a world, which at one point had some kind of order and purpose, was now falling apart and becoming more chaotic. The remainder of the stanza depicts a pandemonium erupting from...
Cited: Kennedy, X. J. and Dana Gioia, ed. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 7th Compact ed. New York: Pearson, 2013. Print.
Yeats, William Butler. “The Second Coming.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th Compact ed. New York: Pearson, 2013. 705. Print.
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