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  • Writer's pictureKirsty Macdonald

Friday Poem: The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Falcon | Poem William Butler yeats |

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

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?

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

This powerful poem by William Butler Yeats is often described as being apocalyptic in nature. Written a hundred years ago, at the end of the First World War and during the Spanish Flu epidemic, it does indeed describe an end of times. Yeats was interested in the spiraling nature of things and here, one hundred years later, so it seems we have themes of a similar nature that reoccur and shake things up for us once again. 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.' Is this not what we are seeing now? And amongst all of this the questions that come for me are around how can we personally hold to our centre when the world, in another pandemic and with much political unrest, looks as if it is falling apart? I am interested in the connection between endings and beginnings, for indeed we cannot have one without the other. The yin/yang of life means that balance comes from polarities and yet we are so often in conflict with this, wanting only the light and never the dark. But Spring comes only from Winter's dark depths and however hard we try to rail against this, it always will be so. 'The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.'. Is it not our path to work to connect to the centre more fully so it can hold all of these polarities in the palm of one hand? Perhaps it is possible to hold close the contradiction of knowing and remaining innocent? Perhaps it is our duty to do so? Is it not possible that from this place we can respond with a greater compassion and learn more lessons of change than if we don't? These are all questions that this poem poses for me. What about you?


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