The Second Coming William Butler Yeats Analysis | Line By Line

The Second Coming William Butler Yeats Analysis | Line By Line

People who are familiar with Yeats poetry acknowledge that he uses such symbols in his poems that are very common for everyone. We hardly find any complexity in symbols that he refers to in his poetry. Furthermore, his subject revolves around Ireland and discusses Irish people. It is very much necessary to understand a brief history of William Butler Yeats, only to the extent that is related to this poem, before doing a critical analysis of “The Second Coming”.

It should be remembered that the writer of “The Second Coming” William Butler Yeats was interested in Theosophy as evident from a biographical analysis of his life. He joined the Theosophical Society but the Theosophical Society expelled him in the year 1890. It is because he was not ready to follow its conventions and rules. “The second coming” is a mourning note on his expulsion from that society, however, this is also an appreciation of a chance that life provided to him. Hence, if we consider this poem in an autobiographical sense then all in all it is about an incident and expression of yeat’s emotions.

Here is what we are going to cover:

Title Analysis of “The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats:

In Biblical terms, “The Second Coming” refers to Jesus, who is expected in near future to save humans but William Butler Yeats has done analysis of changing atmosphere of the world and says that people are dumb who are hopeful for their future under spiritual guidance. He beforehand describes the future. The poet says that the worst is yet to come and suggests to make preparations for it.

Poem Analysis of “The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats | Line by Line:

Stanza-I Analysis of “The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre:

The poet, at the very start of the poem, refers to a spiral. Spiral is imagery that symbolizes something horrific. It seems that the speaker is terrified but from what? It is not very much clear in the starting lines of the poem. Spiral if we define is something that controls other things. For instance, a spiral in the middle of the sea ruins many wide ships in just a blink of an eye. It takes control of everything that comes between. Perhaps, the poet refers to that type of spiral. “Turing and turning” means spinning spiral, which symbolizes infiniteness. It has no ending. It starts and never stops. Thus, it is possible that the poet is talking about something which has the ability to control others. However, in the next line, we become obvious at least about whom the speaker is talking.

Deep analysis of “The Second Coming” makes it obvious that William Butler Yeats uses gyre as a symbol of continuous change. It never remains the same though it seems unchanged as it depends on our thinking that how we perceive it. It is not the case that a morning we would wake up from sleep and see a sudden change in the world. Proces involves change is very much slow but it is certainly there every single second passed. As mentioned earlier, Yeats has also suffered a sudden change in his life. There are chances that he is talking about his own life. However, the very first line of the poem is full of mystery, which can’t be solved without the help of the remaining stanzas of the poem.

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Poetry is always full of symbols and in-depth if we do an analysis of poems like “The Second Comming”, we realize that William Butler Yeats too used falcon bird for a specific symbol. As owl is a universal symbol of wiseness, similarly falcon is a symbol of courageousness and intelligence, who remains active in his complete life. He does not even make his house to live. He spends his life in the mountains but something wrong has happened with this intelligent bird too. he is in a difficult situation. It is no more connected to his trainer (falconer). Falcon might be used as a reference to Yeats himself as after his expulsion from Theosophical Society he lost contact with them as well as with the subject of Theosophy.

In general, if we consider, this line specifies to lack of understanding between the teacher and students, parents and teacher and ultimately husband and wife too.

Besides, the falcon symbolizes something more, however, it is related to the first one. With the increase of the communication gap between falcon and falconer, control is also lost. In simple words, not so simple, however, a gigantic ship seems like a feather in a spiral. A grand ship loses control when it comes between a spiral. hence, the world is a symbol of that falcon, which has lost its control when it comes to change (spiral) and then it loses its control.

Falcon is also a symbol of the world, in which we are living, and falconer symbolizes the forces that cause change as determined by critical analysis of the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. It is the falconer that controls the falcon. Meaning thereby that circumstances control the world. It is not the world itself that changes. It was round and it is, it would remain the same until the last person, however, people change and we say the world has changed. Many former conventions and rituals die every day and many new born.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

This line is very much lucid. Without communication, nothing is possible. Even an aeroplane can’t fly in the air without communication and a time comes when it loses control. One can’t hold multiple items at the same time. Letting go may also become a wise decision but if one can’t compromise and insists to hold more than one things at one time, things may scatter. That’s what the poet wants to say. In a spiral, we see things come closer to each other and rotate in the centre but eventually, a time comes when even the centre can’t hold them and they scatter.

A similar example of it is Tornado. We see it grabbing things in its centre but ultimately when it ends, everything scatters without any order. Spiral whether it is a tornado or of water when it ends, it throws things, which are in there, in various random directions. The world in which we are living also suffers from same type of chaos. Nevertheless, the main reason due to which things scatter and the centre can’t hold is lack of communication. We can’t understand each other because we can’t talk and ultimately due to misconceptions, we develop hate instead of love in our hearts, which causes dissipate.

An autobiographical and critical analysis of William Butler Yeats’ life depicts that in the third line of “The Second Coming” he is talking about his own situation. With his expulsion from society, things fall apart. The world can’t hold too many things at once. Previous fades and new arises. It is the way the world works.

This line does not only have negative impacts. There is a positive impact too. Yeats after banishment from Theosophical society is free. Neither he is in need of any centre nor any corner that can hold him. It is his choice to stay free forever.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world:

A poem may have autobiographical elements yet if it is famous then it certainly contains universal themes. word “anarchy” is self-explanatory. It means chaos because of bloodshed and violence. It seems to us that there is a sudden change in the theme of the poem but it is still related. Rituals and beliefs are made by humans, for humans and their purpose is the welfare of humanity. Every ritual is invented to get some benefit but when those rituals die chaos is created. Yeats may have referred to myths and every myth we know is based on rituals. If myth goes chaos comes, which ruins 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.

These lines are dependant on each other. Modern poets always do a critical analysis of World War-II and do not let us forget as William Butler Yeats has done in “The Second Coming”. In this poem too, the poet refers to the impact of the World War on people. “Blood-dimmed” is a symbol of violence. The theme of violence is dominated in these lines. Yeats has also observed wars in his life. In fact, every Irish has observed it at least once in his life. The poet can’t forget it. If this poem is based on the theme of mourning then the poet is talking about the uncontrollable situation of his time.

Innocent people in the world, who are wise do not speak. Their wise advises are no more with us but the people who are senseless and those who are stupid advises the most. Knowledgeable people are silent on every occasion whereas stupidity prevailed the world. Purity has vanished and the world is full of bloodshed, impurity and disgust because of the worst people, who lack conviction (conviction symbolizes strong beliefs).

Stanza-II Analysis of “The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

The poet is illustrating the future of humanity. Wars, chaos and bloodshed have been observed by humans since long. However, it was the first wave of violence. Poet believes that the worst is yet to come. He is warning people from upcoming threats. If the world continues changing the way it is, definitely it would suffer because fo the worst which is expected in near future.

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.

It is verified by the result of a critical analysis of “The Second Coming” that William Butler Yeats has painted very lucid imagery in these lines. It seems a nightmare of the poet that he wants to share with us. He uses Spiritus Mundi as an allusion (a poetic device for indirect reference), which is a Latin term that means world spirit. Needless to mention that the poem is based on Apocalypse. Apocalypse means discovering something beyond this world. It means gaining more and more knowledge not only about the world but about the whole universe and Spiritus Mundi refers to the same.

Poet thinks that a beast (sphinx) is heading towards us. Poets can imagine it and he wants us to imagine too. He uses a simile to describe that he is as cruel as a sun. Sun is cruel in the sense that it does not care if a person burns due to its rays. It continuously provides heat.

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?

From these lines, we realize that the poet is going against biblical beliefs. He is expecting a sphinx which would cause the destruction of the whole of humanity. The poet used “rough beast” as a metaphor for second coming (which is also an allusion), that can approach the world at any hour. The poet uses the literary technique of Hyperbole in this regard as he has exaggerated. In biblical terms, the second coming means returning of Jesus but the poet does not believe in it. He is of the view that people are stupid who believe that they are safe under spiritual guidance. No one is here to save them from destruction. The poet ends the poem in despair.


The Second Coming starts with despair and ends with despair. In the whole poem, the poet’s mood never changes. It remains the same. He is pessimistic with respect to the future of humankind. He has no hope of a better future. In fact, it is not wrong to say that he is hopeless.

  • Write a critical analysis of the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.

Read complete poem from Poetry Foundation.

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