The poem The Second Coming by WB Yeats as modern poetry depicts the end of the Christian era and the beginning of the Barbarian era. The poem was written in 1919; the time when World War I was going on.
The poet had seen atrocities, mass killings, diseases and deaths around him. This made him believe that there is no concept of morality in the world. Instead, the one who believes in doing the wrong things is the one who gets more benefitted.
The poem begins with the image “turning and turning in the widening gyre, the Falcon cannot hear the falconer”. Falconer and Falcon hold a number of meanings in the poem. e.g.
- The poet might have seen Falcon and Falconer.
- Falcon can also symbolize Hawk which is the symbol of logic.
- The Falcon refers to the intellect of the man and the falconer refers to the passionate feelings.
The image of Falcon and Falconer continues throughout the poem. The world Gyre simply means spiral that widens on going up or down. Here in the poem is also referred to as the interacting and conflicting Eras.
The poet believed that world history is cyclical. One era is replaced by the other which is quite opposite to the first. The image of Falcon depicts the Christian era that came around 2000 years ago and now it is “turning and turning in the widening gyre” i.e. coming to its end and will be soon replaced by a new era which does not have any humanity and kindness but is dark and Barbarian.
The poet then explains the features of the New Era which is quite visible now. According to him, “the things fall apart and the centre cannot hold” The centre refers to the falconer and the things refer to the Falcon.
In other words, the centre can refer to the men’s intellect and things refer to the feelings which are now uncontrollable due to his greed. The world Mere means Only. As the centre is unable to hold, anarchy and confusion are prevailing all over the world. The blood is flowing like a stream i.e. there are mass killings, murders, and deaths everywhere.
There is no appreciation of The Innocent. The good people or the intellectuals do not get justice while those full of passionate intensity are enjoying. The first paragraph depicts the transitional phase just before the beginning of the new era (after the second coming of Christ as per the Bible).
These conditions have been prophesied in the Bible and the poet prepares us for the next stage which according to him will provide some relief
The poet repeats the idea of second coming three times that symbolizes his eager for Christ’s second coming. Soon the poet sees a big image of Spiritus Mundi. Though it was supposed to provide relief, the poet is troubled by seeing it.
It is in the desert (like Sphinx at Giza) and has a head of man and body of a lion. It is pitiless and has no sympathy for humans. The poet is explaining the condition of men during World War II. At that time the people had seen so many murders and killings that they were not affected by seeing others in misery and sorrow.
The beast is in no hurry and is moving slowly. Desert Birds like vultures are flying around it. Note that falcon in the first stanza was too moving in the gyre. The Falcon and the desert birds are probably the same. The sight of Spiritus Mundi vanishes and “the darkness drops again”.
“The twenty centuries of stone is sleep” probably refers to the Barbarianism that existed before Christianity. During the Christian Era, it was in deep sleep, according to the poet.
Now as the Christian Era is about to end it is moving “towards Bethlehem to be born” i.e. a new era is about to begin which is characterized by barbarianism, hypocrisy, murder etc.
The end of the poem is on contrary to the biblical belief. According to Christian mythology, it was believed that Christ will be born when the world would be in disorder.
He would do justice to both alive as well as dead. The poet goes against it and shows us that the new era will be that of Barbarianism.