Second coming by William Butler


In the world of literature, poetry has always stood out as the most beautiful form of language artistry in relaying specific literary meanings. Often, the crafters of the poems do not pay much attention to what people would understand about their creation. Poetry is more of a riddle. It leaves the reader with the homework to debunk the underlying meaning. This means that the readers have to dig deeper to unearth the underlying meaning of the writing.

The meaning of a poem is always hidden, and the understanding is based on the general assumptions. Likewise, the general message of the poem could be more than one. They are often symbolic, and use imagery as their greatest stylistic language device. In this form of literature, the picture that the poet forms in the minds of the readers through his/her creation is what generates the intended meaning at the end.

In The Second Coming, the speaker describes a terrifying scene that immediately crafts some kind of imaginary fear in the reader. The first two lines of the poem introduce us to the speaker’s fears, then goes on to describe another nightmarish occurrence.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, Things fall apart, the center cannot hold…”– (Gardner, Lawn, Ridl and Schakel, p.500).

In the last two lines of the first stanza, the speaker tries to describe the best people as the ones that lack all the required conviction and the worst people “are full of passionate intensity”

William Butler Yeats sensationally crafted The Second Coming as one of the most complex poems that requires a deeper understanding. His use of the language is full of imagery. The structure is simple to the eye but the content requires complex understanding

The Second Coming addresses a variety of themes. These main ideas are conspicuous and help generate the true meaning or the speaker’s intentions. Here, the persona reveals much about the Society, Political Power, Symbolism, Predictions, Anarchy, Generational variations and War among others. The formation of the poem is created on a unique foundation.

A non-rhyming poem with only two stanzas and twenty-two lines, its broadness in addressing societal tribulations is unrivaled. The two stanzas structure of the poem is complemented with a detached iambic pentameter and frequent exceptions. It almost resembles a free verse coupled with recurrent heavy stresses.

Its rhyming scheme is equally uneven and scattered. With the exception of the two couplets with which the poem starts with, the only coincidentally rhyming words that appear in the poem are “sun” and “man”. This structure is unique but what stands out is how the author manages to effectively bring out the classical meaning in an amazing manner.

While reading through, the rhythm and texture constantly change as the narrative takes another twist. In the entire first stanza and in some parts of the second, the writer maintains an objective description of events. It looks like the commentary on the pertinent issues conflicting within the speaker’s mind. This goes on, until the 12th and the 13th lines when he drops off his mask… “When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi, Troubles my sight…”

On the language, the author makes use different stylistic devices. Personification, alteration, repetition, and assonance among others are all evident in the poem. It is important to note that every stylistic device in literary works is used to achieve some specific goals. In the second stanza, the speaker narrates… “The darkness drops again; but now I know, That twenty centuries of stony sleep…” This is a clear case of assonance and consonance.

Using a stunningly violent imagery and a ritualistic language, the author brings out the current conditions in the modern world using a simple structure. While reading, it is simpler to the eye. However, the meaning of the poem illustrates just more than 22 lines of  two-stanza poem states and it is a classic literary work.

Yeats centers this poem on a more visionary foundation. Having gone through tough times in the World War One, he pinned down this poem in a clear prediction of what eventually came to pass during the rise of the Nazi nightmare and the Fascism that brought Europe down to its knees.

When he grew fear of constantly expanding government cruelty, Yeats brings his poem and seems to suggest that, when everything goes wrong, and the hard times come with no any kind of salvation around, turning to religious beliefs can only be the only option.

The poem suggests that the humankind would have to go through the darkness before the light emerges through the cracks of hope. Things may fall apart, as he suggested in the poem, and also systems at times collapse. However, the achievement of the spiritual nourishment could only be achieved during The Second Coming.

The second coming in normal terms refers to the Christian concept of the second coming of Jesus Christ our savior. However, in Yeats’ work, the second coming is not the birth of a savior anymore; rather, it is a birth of something unclear, more sinister, and something that would threaten the world peace and the existence of humankind.

In the narration, the speaker speaks of the second coming… Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely, the second coming is at hand… somewhere in the sands of the desert, A shape with lion body and the head of a man… Is moving its slow thighs…” The terrifying symbolic images are a clear prediction of the many social problems predicted for the humans.

In relation to the contemporary world, this poem addresses a host of issues. Yeats might have created The Second Coming some 100 years ago. Nevertheless, the prophetic descriptions have come to manifest themselves all through the 20th century and they are still evident in the current 21st century.

When the speaker in the first stanza states… “The best lack all the conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”, he accurately describes the current state of the contemporary society. A society that applaud the wrongs confidently; to an extent that people who try to do good look irrelevant.

Politically, a lot has happened since the poem was written. From the rise of Nazi and the Fascism era, to the European wars that brought unrests in the Balkan countries; and the Second World War, as well as the Cold War. The second coming, itself is a symbolic term. It seems like; things in the contemporary world have the tendency of repeating themselves. Sometimes, social injustices and global political squabbles are recurrent and when they reappear, they come even in a worse situation.

While Yeats had no idea about the impending political riddles of the 21st centuries, where the nuclear weapons discussion is threatening the world peace, The Second Coming surely is symbolically addressing what is happening in the current world.

The poem was written just before the rise of the Nazi rule and later the Second World War. Some of the revelations of the second coming, the coming of a rough beast with a lion body and head of a man, were manifested in the form of the Second World War, after the World War One. This poem brings out exotic symbolism and imagery. For instance, in the first stanza, when the speaker states that the falcon cannot hear the falconer over the increasing distance between them; which was a prediction of impending loss of control in the world.


In conclusion, Yeats’ The Second Coming is full of symbols that represent a variety of societal aspects. For instance, the first stanza is full of dramatic verbs, for example, fall apart, widening, drowned, loosed, turning. These verbs give the intuition that the system is totally out of control as the poem generally and symbolically elaborates.

The last stanza witnesses the emergence of a spiritual creature on its way to the spiritual city to be born in a clear resemblance to how Jesus Christ was born over 2000 years ago. In contrast, something sinister is brewing in the birth of this creature.

The popularity of the last two lines is well known. The speaker talks about the rough beast being born after two thousand years. Symbolically, this could represent a start to many social factors. It could be the formation of a new government, a regime or tyrant that would complicate the position of religion and the Christianity. Similarly, a new civilization could be born whose impact is engulfed in The Second Coming representation.

Work Cited

Gardner, Janet, et al. Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2016.