The Second Coming Summary and Analysis: William Butler Yeats

Read our complete notes below on the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. Our notes cover The Second Coming summary, themes, and analysis.


In the English Language, Yeats is believed to be among the supreme poets. He devoted himself for the cause of Irish patriotism and is an important member of the Celtic Revival Movement, a movement that was launch to promote Ireland’s literary heritage. For this, he uses material from primitive Irish chronicles. Other important elements of his work are the magic and occult theory as many images that he uses in his poetry are derives from the research on Occult. The Second Coming is Yeats’ lyrical poem regarded for such imagery. The work is a symbolic exposure of the end of the Christian era and is Yeats’ highly regarded work. Assumed to illustrate Yeats’s recurrent clarification of past, “The Second Coming” is viewed as a masterwork of Modernist poetry

The Second Coming Summary:

The Second Coming is a demonstration of Yeats’ broad thinking and his excessively increasing scope as a writer. The poem was published in November 1920, the most significant literary magazines, The Dial.

The poems with the term “widening gyre”. It not only refers to the circular course of the falcon’s flight but also refers to the significant aspects of Yeats’ theory of history. Yeats, influenced by the eternal recurrence philosophies of Giambattista Vico and Friedrich Nietzsche’s, perceives history as a continuous cycle of failures and renewals. The replacement of each historical era by the opposite and conflicting era is called a gyre.

In the poem “The Second Coming”, the end Christian era is illustrated. The title of the poem is intended to bring the reader’s mind to the second coming of Christ. However, the associated promise of salvation paved way for the enlarged image of “rough beast” signifying brutality. The Second Coming in the New Testament rescues the faithful people from the terrible conditions that will occur at the end of the world. The meaning of second coming illustrates the humans being destined to those dreadful conditions. The poet believes of the “rough beast” to be born in Bethlehem highlights the enormous change on the way.

The time during which The Second Coming was written, the world was under the impact of World War I and it was still sensed in every aspect of cultural and political life. It was not only Yeats who believed and suggested in the historical events of the day causing profound and torturing change. In Ireland, the conditions were changing at a high rate; the will of people was given way by the old social and political leader. Moreover, the triumph of Bolsheviks in Russia results in the helplessness of the social classes in Europe.

An image of cultural breakdown is provided in the opening two lines of the poem. The falcon refers to the forces that only work productively when being disciplined. The consequences of this are described in violent terms in the fourth line of the poem. The word mere is used in its original meaning “nothing but”. Everything is soaked in blood that makes life valuable. The phrase “The ceremony of innocence” not only refers to the particular event but is also intended to propose elegance and command of enlightened people. Furthermore, no one is willing to fight the bloody war.

All such events such that the end of the world is nearer. The violent imagery used in the first stanza refers to the revelation of the terrifying incarnation of what is destined to the poet. The phrase “Spiritus Mundi” refers to a conviction that the minds of individuals are connected to a collective mind, and the images are the reflection of a consciousness that is occurring in one’s imagination. This reference also shows the weak nature of the poem. This weakness, especially in the last line, in the poem, gives a dramatic force. He also appeals to the unsafe and unanswered current historical circumstances. Yeats creates an influential case for the significance of verse as a source of speaking to persuasive public issues and of defensive past consciousness.

The Second Coming Themes:

Human history, as Yeats considers, might be marked into twenty-one interval. Yeats predicts that with the end of the birth of Christ in the era of Greco-Roman culture, the dominance of Christianity will end over philosophy and western social order. The motif The Second-coming is used as a reference to the new embodiment displaced in a Christian society along with little benefits and conduct to human progress.

To the apparent change in human order, like many other artists, Yeats senses some inconsistency. Christianity, though supposedly restricted human’s imagination because of its moral conduct, however, the artists were provided the images of creator, freedom, creativity, and order to allow the poets to have a wisdom of the power to form the word through words. Yet, since the Christianity has reduced only to a religion, or just a political symbol, the posts have simply turned into an observer who is disarmed by the society to address the issues of the time.

The Poem The Second Coming is viewed as the prophecy of the upswing and victory of the totalitarianism in the twentieth century. The term, “rough beast” refers to the prowling totalitarianism and of governments and the movement that prioritizes the ideology over the freedom and dignity of an individual on the basis of social and political order. For the sake of their “self-government”, the political parties exploit the poor, hungry, oppressed and marginalized people. The immorality and weakness are added to their rhetorical skills to hold up the image in public; however, when they come into the power (government, their true image is revealed and the aspirations that people have been disillusioned.

In the poem The Second Coming, a metaphor of falcon is used for the “self”: a falcon that no longer listens to the falconer; except the boundless chaos, no revelation is coming. It is either the lack of the inward sense of destiny and purpose (the instinct of falcon), the Yeats view it, or the external spectator of history and civilization (the call of falconer) releasing waves of human miseries awaiting boundless destruction. Westerners, through this symbolic Bethlehem, is waiting for the new embodiment whose interest will be human’s suppression, not its salvation.

The Second Coming Analysis:

The poem “The Second Coming” is a twenty-two lines poem, written in free verse with loose iambic pentameter. There are ten syllables with five stresses in each line, yet there are variations. It is one of the most successful non-rhyming poems of Yeats.

As the poem proceeds, the rhythm and texture of the poem change with the alteration of the narrative. The events are objectively described by the poet in the first stanza and half of the second. The speaker mask is taken off in the 12, 13 and 18 lines by the use of words “my” (in 13th line) and “I” (in the 18th line).

In the first stanza, dramatic verbs such as widening, turning, fall apart, loosed, drowned, etc. are providing an image of an out of control system. To emphasize the idea of the falcon’s action when it flies away from the falconer, the first word is repeated. Later, the falcon evolves into a totally different creature.

In the second stanza, literary devices are excessively used. i.e.,

The darkness drops (alliteration) again, but now I know (assonance).

That twenty centuries (assonance) of stony sleep (alliteration)

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle (Enjambment).

The final lines of the poem are very well known and popular. According to it, the coming new civilization will celebrate what was abandoned by the previous generation and will abandon what was celebrated by them.

The poet employed unusual imagery in the poem: the imagery of falcon flying away from the hands of the falconer, the imagery of gyre.

There are strong biblical references here: starting from the Revelation of St John to the Genesis story of Jesus, the earlier a worrying dream of the Apocalypse, the second birth that provided optimism to a corrupt world. The planetary timer is indicating, arrangements are being completed.