What drowns the "ceremony of innocence" in The Second Coming?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I moved this to the Yeats poem because the image is derived from his work.  In "The Second Coming," Yeats discusses what he feels best describes the modern setting with a series of images that reflect a sense of crisis and decline.  One of these images concerns the "ceremony of innocence:"

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

For Yeats, this image is critical in addressing the condition of disintegration that Yeats sees all around him following the First World War.  The "ceremony of innocence" refers to a practice of purity, of a rite of passage, and of something that represents a structure and order.  Ceremonies of innocence are those that are rooted in a transcendent condition that provides meaning.  It is for this reason that madness and disorder have "drowned" the "ceremony of innocence." The idea of "drowning" helps to bring out that disorder and chaos have enveloped the hope of structure, the "ceremony of innocence."