"The Second Coming," both in title and message is considered a prophetic poem. It predicts the second coming of Christ and the dawning of a new age on Earth. The main "character" in the poem is a sphinx-like creature from Egypt and mythology which awakens and makes it way to Bethlehem. The poem has many images of violence and chaos--"the center can not hold" the "blood-dimmed tide is loosed" "nightmare" and "rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born" are not welcoming or pleasant to the reader. Yeats comments on the times at hand: "The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity." There is a division between the best people (head people, beople who control the falcon) and the worst (the mob who don't always use their heads and intellect but act and react on feeling and passion only). The disconnect between these two and the loss of control of the falcon further illustrates the chaos and unsettling element of society to come. The two awaken together slowly and sluggishly in the one body of the Sphinx--head and rough emotional body moving slowly together to be born in the target city. The question remains if the Spinx is an evil creature to be feared or if it comes to Bethlehem (as Jesus did) for the good of humanity. Yeats is definitely rocking the religion boat, challenging accepted symbols.
William Butler Yeats (1865- 1939) poem The Second Coming is a description of the end of the Christian Era. Yeats, in his work, A Vision, describes his belief in alternating cycles of history, Christianity being just one facet of one of the cycles. Having just witnessed the end of World War I, he's conveying his belief through the poem that the Christian cycle is over, that the other cycle, a world described in the Apocalypse, is now beginning. However, even that world will run its course, and the "beast" will "slouch towards Bethlehem" to be born and initiate a new Christian cycle.