Essay about An Analysis of Yeats' The Second Coming

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An Analysis of Yeats' The Second Coming

Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," written in 1919 and published in 1921 in his collection of poems Michael Robartes and the Dancer, taps into the concept of the gyre and depicts the approach of a new world order. The gyre is one of Yeats' favorite motifs, the idea that history occurs in cycles, specifically cycles "twenty centuries" in length (Yeats, "The Second Coming" ln. 19). In this poem, Yeats predicts that the Christian era will soon give way apocalyptically to an era ruled by a godlike desert beast with the body of a lion and the head of a man (ln. 14). Critics have argued about the exact meaning of this image, but a close reading of the poem, combined with some simple genetic work, shows
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7-8), and his central images, the "rocking cradle" of Christ (ln. 20) to the "rough beast" (ln. 21).

Other kinds of echoes, literary rather than poetic, emerge as well; Yeats connects "The Second Coming" with Shelley's Prometheus Unbound in lines 7 and 8, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity" (Drake 53), and even, Jeffares suggests, the Divine Comedy, by altering the "hawk" of an earlier draft to more closely resemble the "ample circuit" of a "falcon" described in Dante's masterpiece (A Commentary 241). Yeats surely made these allusions to borrow the literary scale of these prophetic masterpieces. But far more important in this respect is his borrowings from the Bible. Most central and obvious are the Second Coming of Christ described in Matthew 24 and the beast of the apocalypse from Revelations, but Purdy also notes "the vision chapters of Daniel (7-12)," "Isaiah's prophecy of the Day of the Lord (14.6-11, 19-22), 'old Ezekiel's cherubim' (10.1ff), and Jeremiah's denunciation of Isreal (2)" (75), not to mention Yeats' location of the beast's birth at Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ two thousand years ago (Jeffares, W. B. Yeats 38). The Bible is, of course, the western world's primary work of prophecy, and Yeats' use of its language gives his own work a tone of prophecy.

The tool of Yeats' prophecy, crystallized in the "widening gyre" traced by the falcon, is a concept Yeats detailed
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