Yeats' Vision of Future Essay

Submitted By Stasmac
Words: 1315
Pages: 6

Discuss ways in which Yeats presents the vision of future in ‘The Second Coming’

The ‘The Second Coming’, written in 1919, is a very bleak account of the post-war climate. Here, Yeats is at his most terrifying, offering a prediction of an imminent apocalypse. In a time where it seemed there was no hope for the future, Yeats presents his readers with a horrific view of what humanity is capable of. Although untypical of Yeats, given his norm of referencing Irish folklore, ‘The Second Coming’ uses unsettling language and a variety of poetic devices to an altogether more sinister effect. The Biblical and mythological allusions, levelled with the mysterious concept of gyres are all culminated in this deeply intense verse, which undoubtedly contributed to Yeats’s Nobel Prize in 1923. This, perhaps his most known poem, can also be seen as a pivotal point in Yeats’s work, which experiences a transformation from more romantic to a recognition of the modernist movement. In many ways, this is reflected by the content and nature of the poem itself.
The poem begins with a striking description of ‘turning and turning in the widening gyre’, which sets the scene, compounding a sense of an inevitable cataclysm. The geometric image is understood to be an alternation between two cycles occurring in history, merging until chaos is ‘loosed upon the earth’. The trochaic meter of the poem, as well as the repetition of ‘turning’ creates a disorientating, nauseating setting, in which nothing is static. After ‘twenty centuries of stony sleep’, it seems that this cycle is coming to an end, or the start of something new: the second coming of Christ. The title of ‘The Second Coming’ itself can be perceived as a biblical allusion, which is denoted by several other images such as the reference to the ‘rocking cradle’ and to Bethlehem. The second line discloses that ‘the falcon cannot hear the falconer’, perhaps a metaphor for the loss of faith and guidance, ‘the falconer’ representing God and ‘the falcon’ representing humanity, which has drifted into an uncertain future. The progression of the poem seems almost revelatory, as if the speaker (who can be assumed to be Yeats himself) is providing a first-hand account of the coming event, which makes the poem even more perturbing; the narrative uncertain, highlighted by the desperate repetition of ‘surely’ in the second stanza. This perturbed environment is made even direr by the perversion of many other religious themes, such as the ‘ceremony of innocence’ being ‘drowned’. It seems as if some kind of unholy baptism is being described, an almost sacrilegious reversal of Christian ideology. The ‘rough beast’, which ‘slouches toward Bethlehem’ adds to a sense that history is being re-written, comparable to the final line of ‘Easter 1916’, in which ‘a terrible beauty is born’. Perhaps this is Yeats’ way of describing potential energy, or something at the brink of happening, like the ‘brimming water’ in ‘Wild Swans’. This may also be a reflection of the uncertainty surrounding Ireland at the time, whose future was in question, and could be suggested by a further interpretation of ‘the falcon’, which can be seen as the Irish, drifting further from their heritage and identity.
The reversal of history seems to have sent humanity back into its dark, savage origins. Most striking is perhaps the animalistic imagery, namely the ‘shape’ with ‘lion body and head of a man’. The detail in which the beast is described seems almost Frankensteinian, a sphinx-like creature whose emotions are inscrutable, its ‘gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’. Yeats is perhaps using the beast as a metaphor for time, ‘slow thighs’ grinding to a halt, leaving the reader tortured by the lingering of this imagery that is almost offensive to the senses. This graphic bodily imagery can be seen in Yeats’s other works, such as the ‘shudder in the loins’ in ‘Leda and the Swan’. The reason these images are so disturbing is their substance, making…