Poetry Sunday: The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet who was a giant on the literary scene of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. This is one of his most famous, most quoted poems. It seems particularly apt in a time when there is uncertainty as to whether the center will hold and "the worst are full of passionate intensity."

The Second Coming

by W. B. Yeats (1865 - 1939)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
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.

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: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


  1. Whenever I read this I hear Joni Mitchell singing it. Then there are the books: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. I am reading a poem a day by Yeats from a collection of his work. Perhaps we could use a second coming of himself.

    1. It is a poem that has influenced many. many writers and other artists as well as other more ordinary folk. By now, it is deeply imbedded in the culture and in that sense we don't need a second coming for he never left.

  2. That verse is very telling and profound:

    "The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity."

    Who could say it better?!

    1. There's a reason why this poem has had such influence and staying power and the sentence you cite has a lot to do with it, I think.

  3. Not being much into poetry, I read, and was immediately swept up in the imagery. To see where expessions I am familiar with came from - so profound.

    1. I think even people who are not into poetry find that this poem resonates, probably because it is so familiar since it is imbedded in our culture in so many ways.


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