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An Analysis of Yeats' The Second Coming Essay

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An Analysis of Yeats' The Second Coming


Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," written in 1919 and published in 1921 in his collection of poems Michael Robartes and the Dancer, taps into the concept of the gyre and depicts the approach of a new world order. The gyre is one of Yeats' favorite motifs, the idea that history occurs in cycles, specifically cycles "twenty centuries" in length (Yeats, "The Second Coming" ln. 19). In this poem, Yeats predicts that the Christian era will soon give way apocalyptically to an era ruled by a godlike desert beast with the body of a lion and the head of a man (ln. 14). Critics have argued about the exact meaning of this image, but a close reading of the poem, combined with some simple genetic work, shows that Yeats saw the new order as a reign of terror haunted by war. "The Second Coming," in its entirety, is an astounding encapsulation of Yeats' idea of the gyre and his fears about the future of mankind; it is expertly woven with threads of prophetic literary reference and impressive poetic techniques.

To begin, the gyre, a spiral or repeated circling motion, is a symbol and a concept that Yeats used repeatedly in his poetry and prose, and the poetics of "The Second Coming" illustrate the idea of the gyre. The repeated words in the poem enforce the idea of "spiral images" (Drake 131); words and phrases, such as "surely" and "is at hand" in lines 9 and 10, "turning" in line 1, "is loosed" in lines 4 and 5, and the very title, "Second Coming" in lines 10 and 11, are repeated, creating an onomatopoeic effect suggesting the repetitive movement of the gyre (Bornstein 203). Similarly, repetitious or paired images give the same effect, as Yeats seems to cycle through his "falcon" ("The Second Coming...


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...tin's, 1966.

Drake, Nicholas. The Poetry of W. B. Yeats. London: Penguin, 1991.

Ellmann, Richard. The Identity of Yeats. New York: Oxford, 1954.

---. Yeats: the Man and the Masks. New York: Macmillan, 1948.

Jeffares, A. Norman. A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Stanford: Stanford U., 1968.

---. W. B. Yeats. New York: Humanities, 1971.

Purdy, Dwight H. Biblical Echo and Allusion in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats: Poetics and the Art of God. Lewisburg: Bucknell U., 1994.

Stock, A. G. W. B. Yeats: His Poetry and Thought. London: Cambridge, 1961.

Yeats, William Butler. Michael Robartes and the Dancer Manuscript Materials. Eds. Thomas Parkinson and Anne Brannen. Ithaca: Cornell, 1994.

---. "The Second Coming." Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. M. H. Abrams, et al. 6th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1993. 1880-81.


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