Study Guide

The Second Coming Quotes

  • Good vs. Evil

    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. (lines 5-8)

    These lines are a big part of the reason that the poem has resonated with so many people in the 20th century. They "blood-dimmed tide" hints at the huge mass movements like Fascism and Communism that "drowned" out the few, timid pockets of reason that remained. The good people are like couch potatoes who aren’t motivated to doing anything.

    A gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun (line 15)

    "Blank and pitiless" seems scary and menacing, but is it evil? We think it’s more of an animal indifference, like staring into the eyes of a hungry grizzly bear, or at a scorching sun.

    And what rough beast (line 21)

    Again, the amoral, animal nature is highlighted by the "beast." He’s going to be "rough" with us, but that’s not the same as being vicious or brutal. Sometimes it takes a violent shake to snap society out of its funk.

  • Society and Class

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer; (lines 1-2)

    The relationship between falcon and falconer is like that between servant and master. Yeats believed that a strong aristocracy was necessary to keep uncontrollable social forces in line. Without the direction of the falconer, the falcon is both aimless and dangerous.

    "but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle." (lines 18-20)

    This powerful image works in two ways. First, the "rough beast" is being disturbed from its "stony" or indifferent sleep. It is portrayed as an infant in a rocking cradle. But human society is what suffers from the "nightmare." The speaker is saying: you thought you’ve seen violence and bad stuff in the past, but that was like a baby sleeping compared to what you’re about to see.

  • Versions of Reality

    "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed" (lines 3-5)

    These lines are like the "nightmare" alluded to later in the poem. If you’ve seen the classic horror movie The Shining, with Jack Nicholson, remember the scene where an elevator opens and blood comes pouring out. That’s similar to the dream-like vision we get here.

    "Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight" (lines 9-13)

    As soon as the prophetic speaker utters the word "Second Coming," it’s like he has summoned phantoms with some magic spell. His "sight" is clouded by a huge image, so that he can’t see everyday reality anymore. He has either hallucinating or having an supernatural experience.

  • Warfare

    "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;" (lines 4-6)

    These lines have often been interpreted as a description of the apocalyptic war described in the Book of Revelation, when an army of angels takes on Satan and his henchmen. This climatic battle has been depicted many times in popular culture, such as by the authors of the Left Behind book series. But we think no one has produced a sense of "Last Days" terror quite like W.B. Yeats with this metaphor of a bloody, rushing tide. Of course, in this battle, the innocent are defeated, so maybe it’s just the prelude to an even bigger war.

    "Surely the Second Coming is at hand." (line 10)

    In the Book of Revelation, the Second Coming of Christ is foreshadowed by centuries of violence, chaos, and bloodshed.

    "twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle" (lines 19-20)

    These words have proven truer than Yeats probably intended (unless you believe that he really did have clairvoyant powers!). There have been many violent centuries in the last two thousand years, but seemingly none as chaotic and destructive as the 20th century. These lines chillingly combine hints of warfare with images of infancy.

  • Memory and The Past

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer; (lines 1-2)

    The loss of social order has been a gradual process. It’s like when you wandered away from your mom in a crowded place as a small kid, and you thought you could still see her, but at a certain point you realized you were totally lost. The connection between the central authority of a society – be it the aristocracy or a republican government – has become weaker over the centuries. At a certain point, the link was lost completely, like a satellite spinning out of orbit.

    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight (lines 11-13)

    The Spiritus Mundi exists outside of space and time. It contains all the memories of the collective human past. The psychologist Carl Jung described a similar idea of the "collective unconscious," which may have been an inspiration to Yeats.

    twenty centuries of stony sleep (line 19)

    The speaker has a deep historical memory. He measures 2,000 years of history as merely one night of a baby’s sleep. Now that’s what we call "taking the long view" of things!

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (lines 21-22)

    It’s like the oven bell going off. Ding! "Your Antichrist is ready!" The speaker has a very fatalistic view of the approach of the "rough beast." It hasn’t come because we summoned it, but rather because its hour has arrived. Its appearance is fate, and there’s no way society can avoid it.