The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats
The Second Coming Questions
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
- Why do you think Yeats put so many confusing symbols in the poem? Many poets, when they use symbolism, try to make everything relate to each other. But what does falconing have to do with a sphinx or a "blood-dimmed tide," and what does either of them have to do with a sphinx and the "indignant desert birds"? Most people who read this poem want to make these things correspond to something real in the world. But we have to consider that Yeats did not want his poem to be interpreted in this way.
- How would you explain the poem’s relationship to the Bible? Most of the symbols are very general and timeless, like something out of the Book of Revelation. But it’s also easy to tell that this is not the Bible. For one thing, Christ doesn’t show up at the end, but a "rough beast." Does the poet sound like a religious man, and, if so, what kind?
- Why does Yeats think of history as this swirling vortex, the gyre? Because the gyre moves further and further from its center, does it mean that things are always getting worse? It should be mentioned that Yeats’s idea was highly original and not shared by everyone. There are still plenty of people, even today, who think that history is linear (except for a few blips like wars), and that society is constantly improving itself.
- Is it possible that the appearance of the "rough beast" could be good for the world, in the end? After all, if the world is already so violent that "innocence is drowned," things can’t get much direr. Maybe Yeats thinks it’s like tearing down an old building in order to put up a new one. But, then again, there’s nothing in the poem about society rebuilding itself.
- Do you think the poem could apply to the entire world, or is it only intended for Christian Europe? People in other civilizations, for example the Middle East, have found this to be a very compelling poem, and they have made it fit into their own views of history. Maybe it speaks most directly to people with an "apocalyptic" outlook, who think that big, sweeping changes are on the horizon.
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