"The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats.

Essay by sc140a6High School, 12th gradeA-, May 2003

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William Butler Yeats wrote his "The Second Coming" in January of 1919, three years after the Easter Rebellion of 1916 and after the First World War had ravaged Europe from 1914 until 1918. Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart, his first novel, in 1958, just two years prior to the establishment of an independent Nigerian state. These two seemingly unrelated pieces of literature are actually more related to each other than just the title.

All of the horrors that occurred during the First World War and conflicts between the Irish and English can explain the intricate and chaotically dark imagery of "The Second Coming. The poem contains "the cyclical theory of history, that posits periods of roughly two thousand years introduced by the coming of an Initiate or Messiah" (Jeffares 226). The cyclical theory is one of the main themes within "The Second Coming." The "widening gyre," which appears in the first line of "The Second Coming," is the path along which the rest of the poem's imagery and action is set.

Europe was reeling from the physical and financial effects of the war. From Russia Bolshevism cast its shadow over the old patterns of work. War had broken out between the sexes. ...Ireland was on the brink of rebellion, and within Irish society the Protestant Ascendancy had lost its grip. The old order was dead. (Maddox 131)

Maddox's summary of events within Yeats' era gives the reader of the poem a way to see the connections to events occurring in the world. "The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold," wrote Yeats in the second and third line of "The Second Coming." Those lines are directly followed by a much less subtle way of expressing the idea of chaos; "Mere anarchy is...