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The Second Coming -- William Butler Yeats

And as Y2K draws near...
(Poem #289) The Second Coming
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.

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 lion 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?
-- William Butler Yeats
from Michael Robartes and the Dancer, 1921.

A rather nightmarish vision of the Apocalypse - it sends shivers down my spine.



There's been a lot of Yeats done on this list:

'The Song of Wandering Aengus' was the very first poem I ever sent out, almost a
year ago - poem #1

'Sailing to Byzantium' - poem #21
- and 'Byzantium' - poem #60 are
masterpieces of dense, evocative imagery.

Universally beloved are 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death' - poem #32
- and 'The Ballad of Father Gilligan' - poem #237

My all-time favourite Yeats poem (and one of my favourite poems ever) is 'Red
Hanrahan's Song about Ireland' - poem #79

91 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

rowney said...

bah, the beast that slouches towards bethlehem does not have anything to do with an anti-christ or the laughable, jesus is a beast.
Yeats wrote the poem in response to all the anarchy and deterioration he saw, the events of WW1, russian and irish revolution. Yeats believed that history was represented by spinning gyres that represented time and so forth, the gyres would begin with a cataclysmic event (hint: jesus), as the gyre grows larger (time goes by) another gyre is created that would preceed the first gyre, Yeats just believed that this gyre would also begin with another cataclysmic event, and because the world around him was "mere anarch" and so forth, that the event that would proceed wouldn't be a positive one.
After reading his novel the poem is very understanding, although i knew of Yeats being a pagan, i believe that yeats leaves you with a question because yeats doesn't see himself as a prophet and cant answer it himself.

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

[submitted the above as a guest poem.. his comments follow.]

This is downright scary. None of the softer sentiments of Yeats' 'The
Lake Isle of Innisfree' or 'He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven', to name
just two. A much harder edged poem altogether.

Imagery that's a cross between the book of the Revelation and one of
those horror movies about an ancient evil being awakened after a gap of
several centuries.

Yeats seems to suggest that the *Sphinx* of all things (what else would
you find in the midst of a desert, with a lion's body and man's head)
will come to life - and seems to represent it as The Beast.

This poem has a sort of stifling effect on me - a gradual sinking
feeling that the world *is* going to the dogs, human nature is
destroyed, evil reigns supreme, and 'goodness' is all but non-existent.

There's a sense of gradual loss of control - a falcon spiraling up into
the sky ignoring the calls of its master, a sense of evil being
unleashed and going out of control.

We are left with the vague and imperfectly seen silver lining - a belief
that the second coming is imminent, just around the corner, that things
can't possibly get worse than they already are.

[Second coming for different values of 'Second Coming' - Armageddon,
Kalki Avatar, Qayamath ...]


Mellerowicz said...

Yeats gives the readers freedom of interpretation. The poem ends with a question mark. Yeats seems to ask who will win the the battle in the end? Evil, which is represented as the beast or Good, which is about to be born in Bethlehem? Personally, I am hopeful. The Second Coming, or the Apocalypse, is when Good ultimately triumphs over Evil. What do you think?

MadDogHockey2 said...

thankyou for your website, im doing an english paper and it gave me some
useful information

Jdpassos3 said...

I think you people are really oversimplifying this poem. Yeats, in his
quasi-mystical philosophy of cyclic human history (see The Vision) saw
mankind as moving from a period of Christianity to one Paganism. The first
eight lines of the poem offer evidence of this change as man (the falcon)
moves away from God (the falconer), spinning away in a widening revolution.
Yeats calls out that the Second Coming of Christ must be near since the world
is so drowned in earthly sin, but as he does this he (metaphorically or
otherwise) sees out of the Spirit of the World (as opposed to the Holy
Spirit) the vison of the Sphinx, a symbol of paganism, awakening after two
thousand years of "sleep" since the advent of Christianity; awakened,
paradoxically, by the calmness and purity of the Christian soul.
The final two lines of the poem are not a "silver lining" as proposed by srs
or an offer to make up our own minds as Mellerowicz suggested, but a
rhetorical question: Why would paganism need to be born among men as Christ
was 2 millenia ago when it already exists, only needing to be awaakened
within humanity? the Second Coming, Yeats realizes, is not a coming of
Christ as we assumed, but a reawakening of man's animal nature (the body of a
lion) expressed in paganism.
Furthermore, this poem is not a ringing in of the Apocalypse, there is no
mention that the world is ending, only entering another phase in its history.

age 17, Troy, NY

a scott said...

Hi I am writing a research paper on "The Second Coming" I was intrigued by your comments and thought you could help me best with my thesis my instructor's comments ask what am I proving. Yeats' prophetic tone in his poem “The Second Coming” rings truer to the cycle of history, between Paganism and Christianity, by the return of Paganism instead of the coming of Christ as seen in his natural and religious imagery.

Thanks Austin

Roy Waterworth said...

I honestly believe this poem comes off a little ironic. It talks about the second coming of what many believe would be Christ, however in the end it say
"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
This is clearly speaking of the Antichrist that is to claim that he is the true messaiah.

Toughdude08 said...

I have been deeply impressed by your knowledge of William Butler Yeats and I
was humbly hoping if you could help me learning something about this
fascinationg writter. I was wandering what, exactly, made Yeats begin this
restless escape from the antinomic religious beliefs?

Thank you very much in advance!


Jack Bonavich said...


I stumbled on this website as I am doing some work on Yeats' "The Second Coming"

I write by way of encouragement.

While I could find it easy to say that I essentially agree with your exegetical work here, and let it go at that, I would much rather say that I stand and applaud the very fact that you not only think but that you apparently believe that it is important to think and to think clearly.

If you in fact were 17 when you wrote this then I encourage you to never stop writing and speaking your thoughts and observations.

Do not be dissuaded by those that will try to divert or detract. But be persuasive to those that lack the passion for truth.

You have something to say.

Hope lies in your generation since mine has failed so miserably.

It is encouraging to me to know that there are sober, serious and bright thinkers of your age.

You can change the world.

Best to you in all you try,

Jack Bonavich

Cheekychic1111 said...

what in incredibly insightful and informative posting "The Second Coming"
poem. I would just like to say thank you for taking the energy and time to post
and to let you know its very useful material.


Jessica said...

thank you so much for explaining that poem! it really helps out a lot. you're really smart, i can't believe that you're the same age as me and i can't think that well and hard. good job mate~

Jasmine Li said...

Wow..I am impressed by the various interpretations of The Second Coming and I appreciate it. Here is my interpretation and some questions about it.

I see the poem as being anti christ because he says" And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" Jesus was born in Bethlehem so is Yeats saying Jesus is a beast?

While reading this poem, I feel powerless as humans cannot do anything else in this drowning world, and only thing we can do is wait for the second coming.

Harvey R. Fields Jr said...

I believe that this poem is a simple struggle a leader and his
followers, justice and injustice, and a struggle between good and evil
even though what is good and what is questionable. Each side thinks that
they are accomplishing something good yet they are not. The out come is
question able also that is why he ends the poem in a question.

Csefalvay Kristof said...

I believe the "Beast" doesn't necessarily imply a negative role. In fact, I have always tried to implement Yeats' poetry as Christian - in this one, he presents the growing influence of sin and an impending "Second Coming" that will cleanse the world from sin and error. The second coming refers, in my opinion, to the second coming of Christ - meaning his resurrection and Judgement above the world. Take the Nicene Creed, for example - a basic tenet of faith in the Christian religion is the return of the Christ to judge above all.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris. Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose afain, in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end.

This is of course no single feat of the Christian religion. I seem to remember something similar from the Bhagavad-Gita, when Krishna tells about the Avatars (this is not word by word, correct me if I remember wrong):

Every time justice wanes and injustice grows, I create myself anew. In each age, I am born again to protect the good, to destroy the wicked and to restore justice.

In my interpretation, the Second Coming of the Christ is something similar. The Holy Bible shows that God's bond with the human race has to be renewed from time to time (take, for example, the flood - Gen 5:32, or Sodom and Gomorrah - Gen 19:1-11). The Second Coming is, in my opinion, not necessarily The End of All Things, but the end of sin, a kind of cleansing, maybe The Scouring of the Shire.

But this is only my interpretation. Correct me if you feel I'm wrong.

Cséfalvay Kristóf (17)
Budapest, Hungary

ImAmixbeEnzI said...

hii .. i was wondering if anyone read the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua
Achebe. He uses Yeats' "The Second Coming" as epigraph. If u have read the
book, why do you think Achebe uses the first four lines of the poem, and what is
it's relation to the thematic importance of religion in the novel and history?

Lawrence Seay said...

From: Allen

With the subject of this poem being Yeats' cyclical time theories, I must point out that there is one flaw in his thinking. I agree that Jesus was born into the midst of the Roman Empire, being thrown in to a secular society. Slowly that society has become increasingly "Christian" (as the Roman empire slowly declined), to its climax in the medieval period, with the church controlling all aspects of life. On the outside, by name, this appears to be true. But these two facets of Church and Christian couldn't be farther from each other. The church then was filled with avarice and evil. Church leaders were abusing their power, stealing, and just about anything else you could imagine. Though they considered themselves "having to do with God", they were the best servants for Satan that he could ever ask for. So my point is this: Church does not always equal Christian, especially in those days in which it became government and sought power and wealth instead of the will of God. So is Yeats' perception skewed? For after Jesus' death and the emergence of His church, it was a strong dwelling place for the spirit of God and remained separate from government, unlike the medieval church. I believe that the church was stronger then, not at the weakest point, or the early stages of the gyre. As the Bible reads in the new testament, thousands of new people were added to the body of Christ daily. Not trying to undermine his intelligence, for he is well educated, but I wonder how much Yeats studied monotheism- not just polytheism. It is know that he was into occultism and the supernatural, but it seems to me that he hadn't cracked a Bible before he concocted his time theories.

Exclusive1127 said...

I am doing an Senior English essay for my high school on the modern era
and the poem the Second Comming. Thanks for your comment, it really opened my
eyes to the meaning of the poem.

Christopher A. McLean

tilt tilt said...

Actually to be correct, the image most people get wrong is that it is the spynx that is portrayed "[slouching]." In revelations one finds manticores described as coming to earth before the arrival of jesus to torture the infidels before the end days. These manticores have the body of a lion, the head of a man, and scorpion tails. They fit much better with the Christian imagery found elsewhere in the poem than the sphynx does. There is no mythology blending, it is all Christian imagery. With the blame for the ensuing violence to come placed directly on Jesus Christ and God by Yeats.

ben said...

I don't believe that this poem completely heaps the cause of violence on to God. But rather we, as a collective social community have brought it on ourselves. The first stanza points out that there are no more innocent human beings anymore, they are all "drowned", or perhaps that innocence is so far out of humanities reach that even the ceremony is no longer reachable.
The best part of humanity "lack all conviction", they are open minded, but the worst are full of "passionate intensity". (Perhaps suggesting that passion at a heightened level could be violent, and that violence and intensity are the stronger of the two??).
This violence is again picked up on "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last". Maybe it is not God, maybe it is our humanity.... our animalistic instincts that make us persue our passion, that had finally lead us into another era......?
[Here are a few other thoughts]
I suggest this ideology as i believe that YEats is closely assimilated to the modernist movement. I believe that this is important, as this movement held a very dominant view point over the writers of this period. I think what is important to remember is that through out europe, especially immediately after the first world war many empires collapsed. Most of Europe was in chaos. Monarchies, (perhaps most notably the Austro-Hungarian) collapsed and left states.... and countries in complete anarchy. Not only that but there was the Irish uprising of 1916, in which several of Yeats friends were killed [and in Yeats' opinion whilst they were brave fighters, he doesn't know what they died for] also Russia was associated to revolution. Revolution is violent. Perhaps this is what he means by "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere".
Not only is revolution is violent, but so was the war. I think it is something like 1 in 5 people were either injured or killed[can't quote me but i think this is close], and this figure of tradegy effected everybody. Everyone knew somebody who died. Think about that grand scale of grief..... how do you explain that?
Of course christianity (and the collapse of it) is also important. I am not suggesting that christianity is no longer valid, (as for many people it still is), but what I am suggesting is that there arose a real futility to existence. Thus , I guess, existentialism exists. But christianity is only one side of the argument, there are definitely more aspects to look at than this.
I guess I should stop waffling now, perhaps the point in brief that I am trying to make is that you can not simply look at this poem in black and white thinking. Yeats was a symbolist poet before he became a modernist, he was exceptionally interested in the mystical world of greek, but especially Irish mythology. He was living in an environment that was exceptionally unstable, both politically and socially. Individualism was not encouraged. Death and destruction was rampant through out europe. Yeats himself belonged to a snobbish art form, you had to have been resonably educated to be part of this movement.... (He perhaps had facist values)..... etc etc. You get the picture I am sure. Read all about these things and then analzye the poem... I bet you start to ramble on about it..... JUST like me!!!

Tanya Lea

Thomas Hughes said...

I am an English professor at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee,
NC. A few minutes ago John Kerry conceded the election to George Bush.
Yeats' poem immediately came to mind. When I was a college lad my
professors thought the "rough beast" referred to Hitler (as AntiChrist).
Historically, anything having to do with the Irish Revolution makes the
most sense, but the poem certainly can be deconstructed as the reader
sees fit. Could Yeats see as far as the situation we are in today in
the Middle East, the desert sands, indignant desert birds, the dropping
darkness? I'm not much into that Nostradamus stuff, but I can't help
but see the President of the United States as the next rough beast, his
star rising on a bleak horizon. God help us-George really believes all
that Biblical stuff about the final conflict. I want to be wrong in my
reading of Bush's intentions. I don't want things to fall apart; I want
the centre to hold. I fear "mere" anarchy. I fear religious
fundamentalism even more, especially in the hands of a world ruler with
the capability to actually make the end of days come to pass. For me
the key word in Yeats poem is "slouches." None of us won the election.
Fear did. Fear, ignorance and stupidity. Three things organized
religion feeds on. The un-holy trinity.


Cindy Lyman said...

Thanks Bill Cordts, Rowney, and Tom Hughes. I really appreciate your
explications and comments. (I'm a former English teacher, MA in English,
big fan of UK lit.)

On November 3, one of my friends emailed the first section of this poem to a
number of us with his comments, using the subject heading "The Election."
Of course, I got into a discussion with him about the entire poem, which
I've always admired. I also referred him to this web site, which I've just

Tom's post came as an interesting and strangely satisfying coincidence,
under these circumstances. Thanks, again, Tom.

Poetry is an art form and people can choose to see whatever they want in it.
Fine. If it works for you, then enjoy it that way.

However, when explicating it for others, it is important to understand the
sources of information that go into the poem (or other written form), which
means understanding the writer and the times in which the work is written.
If one interprets a poem or other work from one's own biases, failing to
take its sources into account, one misunderstands the author's meaning and
shares inaccurate info with others. Yes, it is okay to accept a poem on
one's own terms, but to pass on to others one's biased version of the poem's
meaning is unfair to the poet. (I refer specifically to Christian
interpretations that fail to understand that Yeats had left Christianity
behind when he wrote the poem. It might be important to you to spread your
religious views, but don't accuse Yeats of having been promoting a Christian
view when he wasn't. Yes, he deliberately used well-known themes from his
Christian past, but not to promote a specifically Christian view of coming

An essential aspect of this poem is that it is a BIG question. The author
provides no answer. His question provides food for our thought. Let us
respect the question for itself and for the impetus it provides to our
search for meaning. It is disturbing not to know all the answers, but it is
more honest to admit that you don't know than to blindly and unquestioningly
spout traditional rhetoric.

My personal guess is that Yeats might have been making this point, based on
what I know about him and his times and my reading of the poem itself.

Eric ADSL said...

Hi there

I am a high school teacher and English graduate. I was busy setting
questions on WB Yeats Second Coming when I stumbled upon your analysis.
It has given me great insight into the poem - thank you, thank you,
thank you.

As the daughter of a Wiccan (a pagan religion) I would just like to
clarify that paganism and Satanism ARE NOT the same religion, in fact,
they are not even slightly related. Pagan's worship the Gods and
Goddesses (the sacred feminine) and believe in the cycles of nature.
They do not believe in or practice any form of sacrifice and do not
worship one specific person (as Satanists worship the devil). They
believe in doing only good, one of the first laws of Wicca are, "first,
harm none".

Sorry, I just wanted that clarified.

Thanks again for the wonderful analysis, it is greatly appreciated.


Angeldevildawg1 said...

i think that chinua achebe's included a part of yeats' poem "the second
coming" in his book Things fall apart because as some might know yeats is a pagan
as so were all the characters in things fall apart before the Christians
started dominating the tribe and converting them to Christianity which was seen
as a "rough beast" in the main character, okonkwo's point of view.
christianity was not a savior as the English thought to the "savage" that the were
trying to save in Africa, but to some to majority a "rough beast" that took over
their tribe and put a knife in their tradition which eventually made things
fall apart

Scott said...

There is another aspect to Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" that occurred to me in connection with my first post.

Yeats wrote the poem at a time when a deep pessimism had settled into the Western psyche. The carnage and destruction of the Great War had annihilated the myth of progress with it -- the belief that history was synonymous with human progress. This is evinced by the fact that, while utopian novels were fairly common prior to WWI, no utopian novels were written after WWI. On the contrary, they were all uniformly dystopian ("Brave New World" and "1984" as chief examples). Yeats' poem participates in that new mood of pessimism -- "the ceremony of innocence is drowned" pertains to the naive belief in progress now drowned in "the blood-dimmed tide" of the battlefields. Moreover, the Great War seemed to have confirmed Nietzsche's diagnosis of the state of the Western psyche (Nietzsche had prophesied great wars such as the world had never seen based on his diagnosis). Recognition of that mood is necessary to place the poem in historical context.

If the poem were simply an image of the mood of pessimism, and a sense of the apocalyptic born of that mood alone, it wouldn't hold such fascination or significance. The really interesting part of the poem is that it is both diagnostic and prognostic. The diagnosis is represented in the first part in which the integrity (order) of things dissolves through growing eccentricity or inherent centrifugal force -- possibly mind itself. The prognosis is presented in the second part. It is an intuition of the trajectory or the anticipated course of time based on the diagnosis of dissolution in the first part. This intuition and vision becomes fulfilled in Ginsberg's "Howl". Ginsberg affirms that we now participate in that which Yeats'only anticipated. The "nightmare Moloch", the "sphinx of cement and aluminum", now rules. Ginsberg feels it's presence as a real existing pressure on his mind, body, and spirit.

In other words, Ginsberg concludes Yeats' poem. In "Howl", Ginsberg denounces Moloch, and also sends a message back to Yeats across the decades, announcing to Yeats the fulfillment of his vision. Moloch, the "rough beast" has indeed been born, and has already established his empire on earth.


Baswellm said...

I also would like to say a special thank you for all of your input
especially Jdpassos3. I have a better understanding of this poem. The information is
very useful because I am in the process of writing an essay for my 12th grade
english class. Good luck to everyone!!


Merry Lake said...

Perhaps this poem is deeper than simply good vs evil. In fact, Yeats may be making a powerful statement about the absolute and irrefutable failure of Jesus and Chrisitianity. The failure of all organized religions to do what they set out to do - to bring lasting peace, love, understanding and forgiveness to humanity.
But the evil in men still rages on. Evil is not something outside of us - it is rather - merely actions that we are all capable of. And yes, the most prevalent and recurring form of evil in the world is WAR. Killing of, and oh yes, raping of, yes, usually, innocent women and children.
The hopelessness of humanity is what Yeats is expressing in this poem.

Ben Flath said...

I'm very glad this site popped up on my Google search for The Second
Coming. The source of interpretations is seemingly endless. So much, in
fact, that after talking with my professor, I am going to write a paper
discussing the evolution of meaning in poetry due to internet posts,
specifically using this site as an example. Everything from the
arguments of the symbolism to the relation to Bush's victory over Kerry
last fall. Thanks to everyone that's posted, you've given me a much more
interesting topic to write on.

Bremen, Germany

Matt Davis said...

This poem seems prophetic in the following ways:

As the pendulum swings towards an apex, the visual assimilation of
things we call "cognition" or "conscience" may be what the falcon
represents. The "birds eye view", where we are only too aware of the
shapes of objects and mechanisms, and without regards to the deeper
consequences of manipulation, have lost the connection to the

The world of these ideational structures depends on the laws of
bivalence and duality. Polarization becomes the mechanism by which
objectification of these visual elements (the minds eye) are mapped.
When polarization occurs, the middle, ie: the "connection" between polar
opposites is lost. (falls into the void) One tries to deny existence
of the relationship.

The left brain attempts to assimilate every fact, every duality, every
relationship of cause and effect, and expects that it will be
successful. In the end, a logical representation of time and space will
result that will make sense and ease the pain and fear of unknowing.
This left brain has become zealous and passionate in it's
objectification. It really believes it can exist separately from the
instinct, sensing, feeling, non-visual side of things.

The beast is just all life sans consciousness. All life that does not
experience the self-awareness we use to build these tenuous ideational
structures which are in danger of crashing down. The beast does not
have a "minds eye", therefore will be born again out of the failure of
consciousness. Life will go on, the pendulum swinging here seems to be
that of conscience objectification, or building of ideational structures
which offer the illusion of detachment - and it is about to start
swinging the other direction - towards a dissolution of objectivity.
This might be interpreted as a rising up of feminine, mystical, earth -
bound ways of perception.

Now, thinking with the minds eye about the dissolution of forms is
almost too ironic. But it seems that these concepts - conscience,
visual thinking, objectification, or induction - processes that have
been identified yet all seem to have limits when it comes right down to
the main question - what is the purpose, what happens when we die, why,
etc... Let's say that mankind is the sole representation of this
"consciousness" or self awareness. When the beast is born, this means
the beginning of the end for this ability to use and manipulate
abstractions and visualizations. The beast is the collective,
unknowable thing which is universal and all powerful. When it appears,
it will deny any objectification. The laws it represents will sweep
away the temporary and limited structures we see as "the law".
Humanity will return to the earth, having lived a full and interesting
life of "self awareness" - now the individual will dissolve into the
void and become part of the collective.


McCullagh Chuck said...

I like Joni Mitchell's version better

Sloan Brandon said...

I enjoyed reading this poem because it was good, im hungry and this poem
really hit the spot, I like blueberrys, hey look theres a book, what am
I writing about because I have no idea, I like the poem cat in the hat,
I guess that's not really considered a poem but more of a kids book, but
I like those too, one time I ate a pound of cherries and I dropped a
major duce right after that

tokeloshe said...

My interpretation of this poem was always one of extremism.
The rough beast is the symbolic anti-Christ, not the
religious one. It is a poem about evil and war, not
Christianity and paganism.

The lines:

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.

The first is about war, clearly, the second what happens to
the boys who fight in a war, and the last two are about war
hawks and those who call for peace. It also hits upon the
fanatic and the moderate in those lines. We who stand on
reasons soil, do naught but our passions foil.

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 lion 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?

This is the childish, simplistic joy of the soldier going
off to fight the war, to see something of a new age of
peace, and then his merciless disillusionment in the desert
of death. The desert is chosen for two reasons, it's
hostile, and it is in the mind's eye where you place
Bethlehem. The antichrist is the final disillusionment, the
final fall of man, when he who is evil's champion is born
in the same place as good was.

Alieda said...

I am an English major and am writing a brief in-class composition this week on The Second Coming. I just want to say thank-you, everyone's analysis really clarified certain themes and the discussion provided enough play for my paper. For sure. I thought that the "lions body with the head of a man" could be a manticore, which in Medieval Christianity symbolized the devil. I also wanted to add that in Egyptian mythology, Horus, the falcon god of the sky, was often seen clutching Shen, the circle of eternity. Interestingly, he was also depicted as a sphinx. Again, thanks everyone. Alieda

Burbfabulous said...

I would personaly like to thank everyone who posted their thoguths on this
page. As a sophomore in an advanced english class, the arguments tat i have read
have really opened my eyes to look deeper into the art literature than i did
when i first took a look at the poem and began to formulate an idea of what,
exactly, the deeper meaning was. Thanks again for the invaluable insight into
an even more (now) enjoyable subject of mine--POETRY!!
thanx ever so much again...

Carl Klapper said...

As these comments make abundantly clear, "The Second Coming" is a great poem because, like any great poem, it means so much to so many different people. Phrases jump out at you and take on a life of their own: "the widening gyre", "the centre cannot hold", "the worst are full of passionate intensity", and so on to "Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born". There is very little filler in this poem.

And this denseness is all part of its meaning. If Yeats had wanted to express just one or a few of the interpretations offered here, he could have done so with an essay. I suspect that he was expressing each of these interpretations and more in writing instead this great poem.

C. P. Klapper

John A Metlow said...

The end of the poem is about the devil in his domain, and what ROUGH
beast, 'The ANTICHRIST', the reward for those who do not love in this
life. The Lord Christ was vexed because of the sin against the rocking
cradle and the promise of paradise was displaced for the antichrist in
the sands of the desert.

Very True,

John Anthony

Ejike Monwuba said...

I am an undergratute of English Language. I want to really thank all you Guys who posted your comment on "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats. My candid opinion is that W. B. Yeats lost his Faith in God and became a Mystic - engrossed in deep mysticism. This accounts for why he cannot see Jesus the Lord in the Second Coming but rather a monstrous beast. Thanks and stay blessed.

Ejike Monwuba.

Amen & Amen: Jesus is Lord!

Pattie said...

Thank you for your website:

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.

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 lion 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?


-- William Butler Yeats <[broken link]>

Jonathan said...

> Turning and turning in the widening gyre
> The falcon cannot hear the falconer; (man can not hear his master)
> Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;(the green zone in a iraq is
> the centre)
> Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,(the violence gets worse)
> The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
> The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
> The best lack all convictions, while the worst
> Are full of passionate intensity.
> 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 (the spirit of the world/art
> of dying well is in fact "Ars Moriendi")
> Nevertheless, I believe
> Spiritus Mundi leads Yeats to propose that perhaps
> the Second Coming (of Christ) is near at hand: Judgement Day . . . .
> the end of the world.
> Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
> A shape with lion body and the head of a man, ( which has the
> head-intellect of a man and the fierce emotions and body intelligence
> of a beast.)
> A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
> Is moving its slow thighs, while all around it
> Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. (British spies lead by
> John Scarlett)
> The darkness drops again; but now I know (His vision goes and
> replaced with darkness)
> That twenty centuries of stony sleep (The sphinx slept in a
> world of nightmares for 2000 years. The nightmares were caused by the
> turmoils of the human race)
> Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, (rocking like a baby)
> And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
> Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Jonathan Pearson
TLondon. uk.

goodmanj said...

bill cordts from m.i.t.?

Melissa Lees said...

-- Dear Bill Cordts,

I am hoping that this is the correct email address to reach you. I
was just scrolling threw the post forum and I came across your post.
I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful interpretation of "The
Second Coming" This is my senior year in college right now and I am
taking Modern British and American Poetry. We had read "The Second
Coming" a while back and I found it very fascinating. I loved Yeats'
idea of the world being cyclical and how everything inevitably
changes so just go with the flow. As a final paper my professor
decided to let us choose any work that we had read and create our own
thesis. At first I was thrilled but then I found that I had trouble
really pin pointing what I was going to write about. Your post gave
me the idea to show that within Yeats' poem there are an abundance of
symbols as well as a strong use of imagery that one can interpret
into to mean a shift from Christianity to Paganism or, on the other
hand, to simply show that the world is coming to an end. There are so
many takes on this poem, I just wanted to thank you for your ability
to help me understand the interpretation that I too feel most
supportive of.

Thanks again,

JJCarebear11 said...

I would like to send a thank you to all those that put their interpretations
of "The Second Coming" on this page. Being 14 in a 10th grade advanced class
and having to write a paper that is given to seniors and college students is
over whelming. If it wasn't for this site and the comments i wouldnt have even
took the time to start the essay. If you guys could help me with this question
I would greatly appreciate it (In what ways is Achebe's novel Things Fall
Apart an answer to Yeats' poem "The Second Coming")

<> Thank You in advance

eurythmy said...

Some remarks on the dynamic of forms:

The falcon is at a periphery of a circle, the centre is too far away and cannot hold.

semi column

From the periphery the anarchy, the tide go to the centre, which now does not hold itself in a centre but innocence is everywhere.

semi column

the best do not have the poser to 'convince' others to do ceremonies only one kind of intensity is left.

Intensity if it has any reality should bring a revelation, we had one so a second one, but probably not the announced return of the first one. the first one was about the logos, the word, and now the word is out again with some power, troubling, not clarifying the sight. Trouble might also be an echo of the worries, the trouble of the blood-dimmed tide.

This comes from the periphery, the vast, the world spirit. The centre is desertic, with a multitude of sand. An older [Egyptian] or future apocalyptic manticore. Yet the trouble sight is faced with the full light, which is blank, pitiless like in the first lines with the blood-dimmed. If anarchy could be quick, a tide is meant to be slower, intense, now the beast is slow because it is vast. It is just a shape, the birds are only shadows, yet indignant of that moving.

We had a falconer, who raised the falcon. A man that can master the thoughts, these thoughts went wild, brought anarchy, blood and no more ceremony of innocence. The cradle is the bearer of innocence made man, to rock it has to have part of a circular motion, the beginning of the gyration we saw in the first line, the cradle of new thoughts and the falconer who said 'I am the truth', and silenced the old sphinx, riddle of man. From history we know how the old mystery schools were shut by the Roman church-and-state, how the books were burned, how the old revelations, all called pagan by the church, or Gnostic called heresy were put to sleep. Then came inquisitions, crusades, religion wars, and affliction of Yeats' Ireland etc. What power of thought the Christ falconer released drowned his civilisation with blood, a new bloody 'crucifixion' has come, not a new coming. There are no clouds in the desert for him to come upon, the only wind, spirit, ruach, are shadows of the thoughts he released I mankind, their only strength left, is to condemn, indignantly, the new life, the new awakening, of the old stones. The beast, is in the shape of man, for its thinking abilities. The lion has courage, heart. Not as the blood-tide warrior or the last sign of heart noticed in the 'heart imagery' of the indignant shadow -birds.

Christ is no more the spirit of the world, the world has no Lumen Christy to illumine it, the darkness falls again, the old wisdom was not dead, it was sleepy, a stony sleep of twenty centuries followed the phase of dream, of nightmare of the cradle god.

Is it that same beast waking up, an old world that triumphed with the Roman Empire, its wars, its brutality? A world, that I could add corrupted the ceremony of innocence of the cradled god, and took on board the new religion with Constantine, and corrupted it, secularised it, brought to it the passions of wars, crusades, brought to infamous death heretics and witches. It hour comes round at last. Has the beast learned something, or is it a lion destined to the Roman circus and gladiators and martyrs? Has the beast learned something, as the poet can it say with its human head: 'now I know'?

Where does it slouch out of its 20 centuries of sleep? Towards Bethlehem: The body of stone moves towards the 'house of bread'. Will the stone turn into bread? Will the second coming be a second birth?

François Gaillemin

Alison said...

I have loved reading all of the rich posts on this poem. Here is the very
simplistic inspiration I had from it when I first read it as a searching
teenager. Alison

To believe or not to believe,
This is the question I face.
They teach he is the master of love,
I'm not one who hates.
The Second Coming according to one,
A tragedy, the master of the fires,
All because of man's blind faith,
Lucifer, the Babe has inspired.
Fear is the reason that I have faith,
I'm not sure if I want it to be.
I long to live by nature,
But the Babe cries out continuously.

Anonymous said...

See Kenneth Anger, Lucifer Rising.
See Megiddo 1 - The March to Armageddon.
This is coming.
Will you be on the side of Love, or of Power?
Choose well. Choose wisely.

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รูปโป๊ said...

See Kenneth Anger, Lucifer Rising.
See Megiddo 1 - The March to Armageddon.
This is coming

ภาพโป๊ said...

I have loved reading all of the rich posts on this poem. Here is the very
simplistic inspiration I had from it when I first read it as a searching

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The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections including The Norton Anthology of Modernist Poetry, Irish poet, dramatist, essayist, critic, short story writer, and autobiographer.

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Tarry Round said...

The following comments were posted by me, Bill Cordts (jdpassos3), in January 2003, when I was 17, in response to an inquiry by "a scott" on January 16, 2003. They were removed sometime after Dec 2006, for reasons unknown (probably the length), but survived on a teaching blog (

Although they are flawed in many ways, they appear to have shaped the course of this thread, and are commented on favorably by many subsequent posters. For that reason, I think they deserve to be re-included....

Tarry Round said...


I am happy and flattered at your email. I am pleased by the occasional mail I receive regarding that comment, and find it encouraging that a logical interpretation for such a frequently misinterpreted piece of work can be appreciated.

Anyway, I'm happy to help you on this point because, since you espouse my point of view, by defending your work I am also defending my own.

You said, "Yeats' prophetic tone in his poem 'The Second Coming' rings truer to the cycle of history, between Paganism and Christianity, by the return of Paganism instead of the coming of Christ as seen in his natural and religious imagery." The first problem to be solved is, I suppose, the question of exactly what can be proven through an interpretation of any literary work. I fail to see how a third party merely researching and reporting on such a thing can be asked to prove or disprove anything beside the intention of the author. So I have to assume that that is what your instructor wants, and what advice I offer will be given on that basis.

In order to prove Yeats' intention, you have to first clearly understand the theology and philosophy that served as the background to "The Second Coming".

Foremost, in order to understand a transition from Christianity to paganism one must understand the differences between the two faiths and how they relate to one another. I am not a pagan so I will be unable to comment on the specifics of any particular brand of pagan worship. However, Yeats was raised as a Christian and turned to pagan mysticism later in life, so by tracing his flow of thought through Christian theology to the point at which he diverged from it; and it is this which is the subject of "The Second Coming".

Christianity is based around the soul. The soul becomes healthy by its removal from the sin, which is inherent in the world. A healthy, virtuous soul is close to God by means of contact with the Holy Spirit, which can be described as the spirit of God on earth evidenced by a common thread of thought in men concerning what is virtuous. Jesus Christ is thought to be the embodiment of the Holy Spirit (therefore the embodiment of virtue), the "Word became flesh", as Saint John the Apostle put it, given as a gift to humanity from God in an effort to redeem mankind by the absolution of sins through the Holy Ghost.

On the other end of the belief system is paganism. Modern pagans worship the "spirit of the earth" as a god, believing it to be the ultimate force, neither good nor evil. It follows that many of the more base human tendencies that Christians would call sinful would be glorified as reflections of nature. These would include pursuits of pleasure, luxury, or sexual gratification. Many modern pagans (especially those Yeats associated with) unlike their BC predecessors, do not dispute the ideas of Christianity concerning God, but they do not worship Him. Early leaders of this movement, like Alister Crowley, with whom Yeats was associated, considered themselves

Satanists in this right since Christians equate the Spirit of the World with the devil (the "Prince of the World"). Yeats was certainly a Christian at some point in his life and makes allusions to Christian faith in "The Second Coming", which would indicate that he lends some credence to it, so I think we can assume that he took the so-called Satanist view point.

Tarry Round said...

So there the background is established. Now I will move on to the subject of the poem itself. On the Rice website, I have to admit, I did exactly what I criticized the other commentators for, I oversimplified the poem. The limit in space didn't leave me enough room to explain it as fully as I am here. The summary of my explanation was written out of spite for the multitude of readers and scholars who, I believe, grotesquely misinterpreted Yeats' poem.

In fact there are two themes to "The Second Coming". The first is the one I outlined in your school's bulletin, which I described there to my satisfaction and will not pain you or I to restate it. I think the distinction between paganism and Christianity should provide enough to elaborate on the topic. The second point lies within the first. As the world turns towards paganism, so does William Butler Yeats. The poem, while it is on one level an earnest description of the change that is occurring to mankind, it is also an earnest illustration of his own paganistic epiphany.

Tarry Round said...

The opening eight lines illustrate the strife Yeats had seen in his lifetime from a Christian point of view. They describe man as moving away from God in a fatalistic, desperate tone, obviously not written by a pagan. Upon his cries to God in lines 9 and 10, however, he comes into what could be described as a communion with the Spiritus Mundi (Spirit of the World). He receives a vision from the spirit of man in the same fashion that one would supposedly receive a vision from the Holy Spirit and is converted. After his vision he uses the phrase, "now I know," which suggests a knowledge from some higher power similar to divine wisdom. In this new light we can assume that Yeats was relaxed at the idea that, since there is no true good or evil in world, only what is natural (nature is cyclic), there is no need to be worried by events such as those are taking place. (Furthermore, there then exists no need for guilt at one's own actions. After a woman turned down Yeats' marriage proposal he pursued her daughter. When she turned him down he pursued her mother again.)

After his vision Yeats is sure of two things: that history is repeating itself, even if the new era is an altered form of the old one, and he is a member of the "new paganism" (to use Matthew Arnold's term). This explains the awe that fills the poems closing. An illustration of a "rebirth" into paganism (as in a born-again pagan) will be filled more with fear and awe than love for this reason: Christianity worships God in his love as a being of supreme good, but pagans worship the Spirit of the World as a being of supreme power. Furthermore, his cadence in the last phase of the poem implies, I believe, that he is almost speaking with reverence to the Spiritus Mundi and a quiet disdain for what he sees as a flaw in Christianity. This brings us to the final two lines in "The Second Coming", which are arguably Yeats' most famous and certainly have the widest variety of interpretation by scholars and readers alike. As such, any work on the poem cannot be complete without explicit attention paid to them. "And what rough beast, its hour come 'round at last/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" This first of all sums up the poem's theme of a "second coming" of paganism as opposed to Christ. Secondly, however, are the implications of the statement. The Book of Revelations says that in his second coming Christ will not be to be born humbly among men, but to come to the world in full glory. But Yeats, since he has already established the true nature of this second coming, now returns to this prophecy, pointing out that it had been partially right, that the figure of the coming would not be born humbly. But it seems to me that he half suggests the reason why this is true is because of an inherent weakness in Christianity. Aside from reasoning that I've previously stated concerning these lines, he seems to imply that paganism, a brutal and powerful force, would not stoop to a meek coming that of Jesus. The previous line referring to Christianity as a "rocking cradle", the calmness of which stirred the Spiritus Mundi, supports my idea that Yeats had come to view Christianity as week and its innocence as idealistic and impractical in the real world, in which the Spiritus Mundi can promise satisfaction and earthly fulfillment.

Tarry Round said...

Well, that's the best I can do so far. I'm sure that more research into Yeats' life and conviction can do a better job to prove these points. As it is, however, my ideas are only speculation supported by what I do know about William Butler Yeats.

If there is a single theme to "The Second Coming" it is a frank and earnest illustration of both the transition of the world from Christianity to paganism, and Yeats own transition. It is frank because it expresses both points of view with the conviction of each, and his transitory vision with awe and wonder. (He does not tell the whole story from the perspective of a converted pagan.)

I hope this has helped, and if there are any points I have explained poorly or that need clarification, feel free to write to me again.

Thanks again for your request.

Bill Cordts
Troy, New York

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