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That offer was withdrawn when the Bolsheviks seized power. And these ravished women have another sister under the skin: What prompted him to do this? The drafts themselves offer intriguing clues.

What is the main idea of William Butler Yeats' The Second Coming? |

Of course, it was what the Apocalyptist himself had done. But he does insist, following Jesus himself Mark 9: The same is true in the modern world, not only in the obvious case of Fundamentalists who read Revelation literally, but in the case of politically-oriented theologians who apply Revelation to current events, and so repeat the limiting errors of such history-centered exegetes as post-Reformation Luther. He was especially fascinated by sublime aspects of the Beast: In the color print reproduced here, Blake returned to the image he had engraved on the final plate of The Marriage.

Above all, Yeats as visionary would have had no desire, by binding his prophecy to particular events, to make himself ridiculous or a crank—as had many of those historicist biblical scholars, or MacGregor Mathers. Jerome, aware of the many historically-specific misreadings preceding his translation of the Bible, was content to revise previous commentaries on the Book of Revelation rather than venture one of his own. In the final poem, freed of limiting historical associations, the rough beast and the blood-dimmed tide of anarchy that drowns the ceremony of innocence take on, though remaining paradoxically distinct and defined, the mysterious vagueness of the Sublime.

That the beast slouches, in the single vestige of specificity, towards Bethlehem makes the creature a type of the Antichrist. But Yeats was hardly, like John and the army of Christian apocalyptists that followed, a conventional Christian pitting sectarian goodness against Satanic and bestial evil. Then I wrote Where There is Nothing. Despite this inversion of Christian expectation, the poet was responding less to Matthew 24 and Revelation, or even to Nietzsche, than to contemporary revolution. Indeed, he was participating in a tradition of allusion that goes on to this day.

The extraordinary impact and resonance of both works are attributable to identical phenomena: Sixteen hundred non-combatant civilians one third of the town were killed in this major event of the Spanish Civil War: The atrocity shocked the world and prompted Picasso, a normally apolitical artist, to begin painting his masterpiece. Though the overarching brutality conveyed in the mural is obvious, viewers and critics have had widely varying interpretations of its enigmatic details.

Though he referred to the painting as allegorical, Picasso himself never fully explicated the symbols he had employed. Along with the overt and agonized depiction of human and animal suffering, the images evoke thoughts buried in the unconscious. Cryptic references have been found in Guernica to figures as disparate as Vishnu, Pinocchio, and Hitler.

By then, Guernica was seen as a prophetic vision of the horrors of the Second World War. An impassioned response to the massacre at Guernica, the painting subsumes and transcends its originating event, and even the worldwide cataclysm that followed. Guernica has become what the artist consciously or unconsciously intended from the outset: The major theme of the mural—a slaughter of the innocents—has become fused with another: Guernica is now recognized throughout the world as an icon for peace.

And yet, like all prophesies, this visionary poem seems simultaneously a warning. At the very least, inhumanity has, in both mural and poem, met the human at its best. Chaos has been organized. Blood-dimmed destruction and anarchy have been shaped by master artists into the fearful symmetry of aesthetic form. If, in studying any poem, particularly one responding to contemporary events, we were to focus unduly on generative intention, and on the immediate context of its creation, the poem would inevitably dwindle in meaning and impact as that particular moment receded.

Similarly, by cancelling allusions to the Irish situation and all specific references to past and contemporary revolutions, to Burke, Marie Antoinette, Pitt, Germany, and Russia, Yeats liberated his poem from those localized events destined to be assimilated like so many grains of sand in the desert of time. But it is one thing to simply be general and abstract, quite another to generalize after having delved deeply into, and worked through, materials that are concrete and specific. What we have instead is a poem in which Yeats has it several ways at once.

The seer casts a cold eye on the whirling of gyres beyond our control, yet seems, at least in part, excited by the rebirth of cyclical energy. We must trust the tale and not the teller. Instead, the newborn age is likely to take the chaotic shape prefigured by its brutal engendering.

But he was even more alert to the paradoxically-related loosing of the tides of irrational fanaticism. Ironically enough, and worst of all, in the case of such stateless actors as Al Qaeda and affiliated jihadists, our global war creates more terrorists than we can kill. We confront a metastasizing religious fanaticism impervious to traditional forms of rational or military deterrence and driven by the mad conviction that any and all forms of terror against the infidel West are part of a holy war carried out under the auspices of their approving God.

The principal competing visions may both be described as apocalyptic, with each side embarked on a sacred mission to combat and eradicate perceived evil. There are, to be sure, less spiritual considerations also motivating U. Despite denials and in defiance of sanctions, theocratic Iran continues its drive to acquire a nuclear weapon, risking a preemptive strike. A more immediate nightmare scenario involves the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, a state—like neighboring Afghanistan, despite a decade of American intervention—on the verge of chaos.

Though he admired much in the Islamic and Asian traditions, Yeats, who had read Spengler, feared a decline of the West accompanied by the rise of a barbarous fanaticism that would threaten all civilization.

of William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming”

Many of us, even those most skeptical of oracular clairvoyance, find ourselves caught up in the mingled terror and apocalyptic shudder of the Yeatsian Sublime. That is not, I think, an accident. The specific events that provided its initial stimulus helped to shape the final poem. But Yeats, who was, like Carl Jung, fascinated not only by the occult but by alchemy, knew what he was doing when he transmuted the base metals of his historical minute particulars into the poetic gold of universally-resonant archetypes. That storehouse of archetypes causes universal symbols to arise in individual minds.

Leda and the Swan. How can those terrified vague fingers push The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? And how can body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? A shudder in the loins engenders there The broken wall, the burning roof and tower And Agamemnon dead. Being so caught up, So mastered by the brute blood of the air, Did she put on his knowledge with his power Before the indifferent beak could let her drop? The Mother of God. The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare Through the hollow of an ear; Wings beating about the room; The terror of all terrors that I bore The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows Every common woman knows, Chimney corner, garden walk, Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes And gather all the talk? We suspect that centrifugal forces we have ourselves unleashed—sociopolitical, technological, military, economic, the overarching global climate change we have exacerbated—are now in the saddle and ride mankind.

There seems little consolation to be found. Freedom is stirring, but in such a world even the hopeful Arab Spring is rapidly losing its early bloom. Revolutions devour their own children. Even this flavor of rhyme, which is called half-rhyme, then dissolves by the end of the stanza. In every era, poets have composed deeply awkward phrases in an effort to make their verse conform to such conventions.

The emphasis of the sound and rhythm of this poem redouble its identification of destined disorder. Nevertheless, in his heavily symbolic and mystical poetic style, in his adoption of an apparently ancient mythology, an in his imagination of worldly revolution, Yeats. While the impending turn of the millennium has inspired many to postulate new spiritual orders culled from ancient mythology, contemporary apprehension of the impact of the year c.

In southern Ireland, several years of a failed potato crop lead to crushing famine. Between and , the Irish population shrinks from 8. The next generation of rural Irish compare that devastation, as well as their own merely modest success, with the industrialization and prosperity in both England and the northern Irish counties. By the time an agricultural depression hits, during the s, discontent is widespread. It is fortified and put to spirited purpose by Charles Stewart Parnell , an Irish patriot and founder of a vigorous movement for Irish Home Rule.

In the face of World War I , however, it is suspended. Northern Protestants have vowed to resist home rule by force, and Ireland is on the verge of civil war. Frustration over the postponement of home rule eventually leads to the Easter Uprising of Final constitutional ties between Ireland and Britain are cut, as Ireland becomes a republic outside the British commonwealth. The continent of Ireland remains a site of strife between Protestants and Catholics, the North and the South , and proponents and opponents of British-Irish allegiances.

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Since the late s, both Catholic and Protestant paramilitary organizations have engaged in terrorist activities promoting their own, particular views. Although a cease-fire is negotiated in and voters in Northern Ireland overwhelmingly back a peace plan in May of , the country has yet to reach agreement. His formal schooling in poetry was not extensive, consisting mostly in learning the English Romantic tradition that celebrated, usually in the form of lyric poetry, the bond between man and nature.

In any case, Yeats was not a very capable student; his teachers remembered him for his bad spelling, and he failed to make high enough marks to allow him to study at Trinity College. Yeats made up for this lack of formal training with avid attention to the various kinds of writing that most moved him—including the Romantic poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley , the symbolically rich and mystical poetry of William Blake , and Eastern religious texts such as the Up-anishads which he helped translate into English.

But while high-minded and literary influences dominated his early work, Yeats balanced his learning with the sensibilities of more common perspectives. In particular, Yeats was interested in forming an altogether new kind of literature that was an outgrowth of Ireland. Instead, he chose what he liked from a variety of sources, blending each influence into a style of his own.

In turn-of-the-century England and Ireland, Christianity still held much power, in terms of being a moral code that people believed would bring about a better world. Gaining much sway alongside it, however, were the often competing views of the world set forth by scientific and rationalist thinkers, who yearned to break with religious tradition, and political thinkers, who wished to remove any semblance of divine purpose to the social order. Under these competing demands, many, like Yeats, chose to turn their backs on both traditional Christianity and more contemporary theories.

They chose, instead, to discover and explore types of spirituality that were supposedly more ancient and powerful than Christianity.

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A number of schools of spiritual study arose, and Yeats was active in several of them. Typically, though, he allied himself wholly with none of them, preferring, finally, to found his own set of spiritual theories. One movement that attracted Yeats was Theosophy, a school of thought founded by a Russian woman known as Madame Blavatsky that claimed to unite science, religion, and philosophy. Yeats also studied with an organization called the Order of the Golden Dawn, which had roots in other secret, magical orders, including Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry.

According to Ellmann, Yeats used his mystical practices to create a path to self-transformation and the source of poetic inspiration, claiming consistently that a hidden order was the engine of and key to the world we perceive. Yeats witnessed several political insurrections, including World War I , the Russian revolutions, and the rise of fascism. Indeed, he was appointed one of the first senators of the Irish Free State , serving in that capacity for six years.

This, too, was a commanding presence during his day. In the late-nineteenth century, the Irish Republican Brotherhood had become active in bombing English railways; the great Irish leader Charles Stewart Par-nell had pressured Parliament to introduce a Home Rule Bill for Ireland; and nationalists of various stripes argued about their differing visions. While he actively promoted the foundation of a national theater, his productions promoted cultural riches over political propaganda: Much of his political activism was inspired by his goal of impressing and allying himself with Maud Gonne, a revolutionary who was sometimes called the Irish Joan of Arc for her nationalist fury.

Having founded a National Literary Society in Dublin, whose purpose was to publicize both traditional and contemporary Irish lore and literature, he went on to establish the Irish dramatic movement and the national theater later called the Abbey. That it is a powerful, mysterious, and beautifully crafted poem has never been challenged. There is, however, extensive and often unnoticed controversy concerning the meaning of the poem. Yeats approves of this kind of brutality. The Man and the Masks, the source of the poem and its meaning lie in the events of the Russian Revolution and its promise to wrest power from the aristocracy—a promise that to Yeats was a threat, since he favored rule by the elite and feared the mob or mass rule he associated with popular government, including democracy.

Two other critics, Donald Davie and Harold Bloom , have suggested that tying the poem to Christian apocalypse is not as automatic a necessity as the poem itself suggests. Bloom insists that the poem is about the second birth not of Christ, but of the sphinx, and that Yeats is above all attempting to characterize leftist political movements in Ireland as well as in Russia as disastrous to the ceremony and conviction of the ruling classes.

Packed with warning and fierce language, the poem is at the same time highly ambiguous. Michael Lake, a published poet who holds a M.

The Second Coming (Poem)

Or they may innocently view the poem as an augury of and democratic protest against rising totalitarianism. He believed they would soon be swept away by an aristocratic neopaganism that would reassert hierarchical control over society and replace the industrial middle classes with a beneficent landed gentry, well-subsidized and grateful artists, and happily sweating peasants. The son of an agnostic painter, Yeats had grown up in an anticlerical and antireligious environment. Still, early on he was drawn to the uncanny and mysterious, and he eventually located a spiritual home in the works of William Blake.

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  5. Like Blake, his master, Yeats was in search of a personal mythology that would both feed his soul and inspire his poetry. Also like Blake, he was seeking a spiritual cosmology with which he could oppose and defeat materialism. Yeats was finally able to complete the finishing touches to his mythic cosmology through the help of his wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom he married when he was middle-aged and who, soon after their wedding, began to channel messages from the spirit world by means of automatic writing and, later, mediumistic sleep talking.

    The substance of these messages, recorded and systematized from to and further expanded and annotated until , formed the basis of A Vision. These spiral in opposing pairs up and down two interpenetrating cones, one primary and the other antithetical. In the end, the motion of the four Faculties becomes fixed into twenty-eight phases that can explain the past or predict the future of individuals, peoples, or eras. For his own part, Blake resolved this dilemma by creating his own cosmological and mythological model of the world as a counter to the Newtonian mechanist universe.

    The first stanza of the poem emblematically exhibits the state of affairs in Europe at the end of the World War I. This figure may portray the trajectory of Christian civilization past the gravitational pull of the Christ archetype. Chaos dissolves order at the turning from primary to antithetical or vice versa. At the death of an era, the best of people lack any firm footing for their convictions while the worst can clearly see circumstances have reversed into their favor and do not flinch at the prospect of taking advantage of them. Many years earlier, when he was studying what we would now call creative visualization under MacGregor Mathers in the Order of the Golden Dawn, Yeats was once startled to envision just such a titanic figure as he describes in line 14 of the poem.

    Like Blake and Shelley, Yeats had begun as both a Romantic and a radical in his youth. He had even been a disciple of William Morris , a utopian socialist, sociologist, and labor agitator. For all of his longing for the pastoral gentility of eighteenth-century Ireland, Yeats harbored a more destructive, dark side to his personality.

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    Like the Marxist-Leninism he loathed, his metaphysics easily justifies any enormity in the name of historical necessity. Carolyn Meyer holds a Ph. In the following essay, Meyer analyzes how, in a brief poem, Yeats details the crumbling of society in preparation for a new epoch. Within a matter of years, T. Eliot had completed The Waste Land, a poem that likewise captured the state of despair and disillusionment felt by intellectuals as the Western Hemisphere continued to reel from a series of shock waves: For Yeats, that violence and chaos hit much closer to home, as Ireland moved toward independence through the turmoil and bloodshed of the Easter Rising of and the Black and Tan War that followed.

    Yeats believed that history was cyclical. Every two thousand years, the Wheel completes a turn and a new cycle or civilization one of two of opposing characters is ushered in, heralded by violence and incarnated through an act of union between a male god in avian form and a mortal female. On the brink of the new millennium, there are ominous portents that the Christian cycle is drawing to a close and that what will replace it—its antithesis—will merely deepen the nightmare of history.

    For this most public, vatic, and visionary of poems, Yeats adopts the elevated tone and high rhetoric of a hellfire sermon. The hypnotically in-cantational dactyls and trochees of the opening lines quickly give way to richly textured blank verse, but not before those swaying rhythms have evoked the spiraling motion of the errant falcon in flight. While the world spirals hopelessly out of control, however, Yeats remains firmly in control of his lines, building up the poem climactically through a series of parallel constructions, enhancing its oracular quality through internal rhymes and alliteration.

    The two stanzas, of 8 and 14 lines respectively vaguely reminiscent of an octave and a sonnet , mark off its separate movements of factual reportage and emotive prophecy. Nevertheless, what is unleashed is a destructive and potentially murderous force. Man has lost his control not simply over nature but over the beast within himself, leading inalterably to the collapse of civilization as Yeats defines it in Book 5 of A Vision: A civilization is a struggle to keep self-control, and in this it is like some tragic person, some Niobe, who must display an almost superhuman will or the cry will not touch our sympathy.

    With ceremony gone, the prevailing order has been overturned. The disorder of the world is a prelude to some revelation, as the Gospels predict time and time again. Even so, until line 13 there is no reason to believe that the coming dispensation will be anything other than a more awe-inspiring reprise of the Christian revelation. All of this changes, however, as the horrifying prophecy begins to unfold. The poet presents himself as the passive recipient of a vision that comes to him almost offhandedly, like a casual thought.

    The Second Coming

    The vision comes not from his own imagination but from out of a great storehouse of images or Platonic forms, similar to what Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. Ironically for Yeats, a fascist sympathizer, it was precisely such an ideology that answered his demand for order, discipline, and ceremoniousness—the very things he feared would be swept away by the cataclysmic events of his day.

    Kristina Zarlengo taught literature and writing for five years at Columbia University. A scholar of modern American literature , her writings have appeared in academic journals, newspapers, and national magazines. She received a doctorate in English from Columbia in He saw life—whether his own, that of other people, that of invisible spirits, or that of the cosmos as a whole—as a balancing act, and he walked a tightrope between opposing, equally profound forces. Yeats was, from the beginning, solemn and grand in aspiration. Through his involvement with politics, and in particular the political bent of his love, Maud Gonne, in whose name politics and great love were combined, Yeats tempered his abstraction with vigorous interest in the events of his nation during his day.

    The timeless met the timely. His love for Ireland and his desire to champion its culture led to his founding the Irish Renaissance, a movement whose twofold purpose was to revive and maintain a literary past and to originate an indigenous contemporary literature. In that capacity, he came to love plainly stated folk wisdom in the form of Irish legends, another counterbalance to his loftier ambitions. He unified the Irish tradition he loved with the English of high culture by writing in an.

    All else is open to interpretation. A single line did, often, take him hours to craft.

    What is the main idea of William Butler Yeats' The Second Coming?

    But Yeats was relentless, and his labors were fruitful. In the friction between opposites, he saw the sparks of life. Finally, in his mature work, Yeats combined classical myth and autobiography in one poem, he turned Maud Gonne into Helen of Troy , but he was equally enchanted with folk legends. In his usage of traditional metrical and rhyme schemes, as well as in his preferred subject matter of heroic quests, love and roses, and humanity among natural wonders, Yeats was a traditional poet, picking up ideas and techniques both from the Romantic poets who immediately preceded him and from poets throughout history.

    By the time of his death, Yeats was producing poetry with extraordinary depth, as well as unusual range: In his every effort was the grand desire to understand everything—from his own life to the world itself—as part of a pattern grasped by poetic imagination.