The the “worst” people are the only ones who

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats is a blank verse poem broken into two stanzas, one describing the current conditions present in the world and the other expressing the idea that new ones are about to appear. Written in the early 1900s, the turn of the century and post-WWI, led the modernist to believe that the world was about to go through a significant transformation. In the poem, the speaker argues that a new cycle of civilization, the Second Coming, was about to occur and replace the current one and the traditions that it upholds. The first two lines of the first stanza establish the setting of the poem as well as introduce the Falcon, to represent the cycle of civilization that is present. In “TURNING and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;,” (Yeats, 1-2) the speaker is explaining that the falcon has flown too far away from its master and is getting lost, symbolizing society drifting farther and farther away from tradition. A gyre is defined as a spiral or continuous circular motion, so the use of the word refers not only to the falcon’s movement but to the conventional mores that are spiraling out of control and changing. In lines 3-8 the speaker expands to a broader perspective, describing the chaos that is starting to begin and that will continue as a new cycle of civilization starts. He posits that anarchy will erupt and the innocence of people’s minds will be disturbed and suffocated. The speaker says, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” (7-8) meaning that the “best” people lack an opinion or stance on an issue and the “worst” people are the only ones who have a belief and opinion and are ardent about it. This seems ironic because if one believes in something so much that they take action on behalf of it, then they usually are considered the good guys. The second stanza starts out with two lines that are almost exactly the same: “Surely some revelation is at hand;/ Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”(9-10). Both of them show us what the speaker thinks is about to happen, yet the repetition could mean he is questioning himself. The following three lines state that the speaker has a vision of the “Spiritus Mundi,” meaning the spirit of mankind, in the future. The description “A shape with lion body and the head of a man,” (14) is describing a sphinx, the latest animal that represents the new cycle of civilization that is coming. In lines 15-17, the sphinx’s expression and movements are being described. It’s “blank gaze”(15) and “slow-moving thighs”(16) described give the reader a notion of suspense because nobody knows what it is. The speaker doesn’t depict them as particularly scary, but it does impart a sense of build-up and anticipation for whatever is about to take place. As the “darkness drops again,” (18) the image of the Spiritus Mundi is over, and the speaker realizes that the Sphinx is what will represent the future. The “twenty centuries of stony sleep”(19) mentioned is referencing the 2000 years that have gone by since the “first coming” of Christ.  If something is “vexed to nightmare”(20) it means that it was disturbed or upset, so in this case, the speaker is saying the traditions will be irritated rather than calmed, even though a rocking cradle suggests otherwise. The last two lines finish by asking the question of what is coming. The speaker states that a rough beast is about to be born in Bethlehem, just like Jesus was, suggesting that a new civilization is going to be born that possibly rejects the previous. The Second Coming reasons that the world is about to undergo a transformation – one that will alter traditions and upheaval society. Yeats wrote this poem after World War 1, a cataclysm which must have influenced his poetry and could be what he is referencing throughout. Ahead of his time, while the majority of mankind was grieving and processing the disaster of the war, his analytical mind was contemplating the future implications and what they meant. As a widely recognized early modernist, his Second Coming is a perfect example of this notion.

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