The Second Coming

by WB Yeats

Poem analysed and read by Chris Williams


                                   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: a waste of desert sand;
                                   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
                                   Wind 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?


Hear this poem read by Chris Williams.


When I was in my last year of O Levels (remember them?), a student teacher came to Ferndale Grammar School and was given the task of teaching the English Literature class. She tried to instil in us a love of Yeats. On the whole she failed miserably, as the class recognised a doe in the headlights and acted appropriately for a pack of young predators.

That wasn't the moment that I decided that, whatever job I ended up doing in life, it wasn't going to be teaching. I'd experienced the pack scenting blood many times before then. However, sometime during the short period that this victim was being tortured (I can't remember her name, but she has remained in my memory as small, fair and pretty), she gave me The Second Coming.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight

It was about this time that I'd started writing poetry myself, along with a friend of mine. The Second Coming didn't start me, that fault lies with Leonard Cohen, but maybe it allowed me to see possibilities I hadn't seen before. It has remained with me and also, it seems, with other people, for so many of its phrases are familiar:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide
The ceremony of innocence
The best lack all conviction
And what rough beast

That last I have used at least twice in my own writing.

The Second Coming is full of symbols, Yeats loved symbols, and it is possible to analyse them at length. Indeed, I recently read a complete poems of Yeats where the editor did just that. It's been done; I'm not that interested in doing it again. Also, there's the Christian aspect but this, too, did not particularly resonate with me.

Sometimes, it's difficult to understand why something does resonate with you but, in the centre of that chaotic English Literature class, I met a rough beast and it has stayed with me since.


More Antique Poems

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3 1802 - William Wordsworth. Analysed and read by Dominique Spearey

I said I splendidly loved you; it's not true - Rupert Brooke. Analysed by Bryn Fortey and read by Chris Williams

Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelley. Analysed and read by myself

Snowflakes - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Analysed and read by Pat Forster

Spring and Fall. Analysed by Robert Nisbet and read by Chris Williams.


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