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This 1920 poem, between the World Wars and in the midst of Ireland’s political struggles, brings one of the most striking images to the universal historical cycle of chaos-adjustment-balance: The “tame”, “trained” hunting falcon, loosed from its trainer’s arm, flies in a gyre (spiral, whirlpool) but gets farther and farther away from its center, finally out of reach of the trainer’s command, no longer in control. This is the gyre of history: a period of civilization, of “control”, until, because of the forces that widen the gyre, another period of chaos ensues. By bringing up Bethlehem, Yeats is implying that Christianity was such a time, with the present-day chaos (either Yeats’ or Europe’s, or our present international condition) getting out of control, and another “savior” or “king” is about to be born out of the chaos. Because of the desert and Sphinx imagery, a modern interpretation is forced on us as we read the poem in the 21st century: the Arab Spring, the conflict between Christian and Moslem cultures, etc., a “second coming” is imminent, not exactly foretold in Yeats’ poem, but another example of “the widening gyre” of history’s dynamic pattern.
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