Donald Weeks (essay date 1948)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Image and Idea in Yeats's The Second Coming'," in PMLA, Vol. LXIII, No. 1, March, 1948, pp. 281-92.

[In the following essay, Weeks seeks to trace the images, thoughts, and associations alive in Yeats's mind while he was writing "The Second Coming. "]

There are poets whose art is an accumulating cluster of images that become more and more identified with specific ideas. I believe Yeats to have been such a poet, in whom a cluster of images grew in significance to produce the great poems of the period from the first World War to the second. Generally accepted as one of Yeats' finest lyrics is "The Second Coming." I believe that the poem gains in richness by being...

(The entire section is 5377 words.)

Edward A. Bloom (essay date 1954)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yeats's 'Second Coming': An Experiment in Analysis," in The University of Kansas City Review, Vol. XXI, No. 2, Winter, 1954, pp. 103-10.

[In the following essay, Bloom analyzes "The Second Coming" in light of Yeats's philosophical writings, calling the poem "a masterpiece of complexity. "]

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

(The entire section is 3940 words.)

Bernard Levine (essay date 1970)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Vision and 'Responsibility'," in The Dissolving Image: The Spiritual-Esthetic Development of W. B. Yeats, Wayne State University Press, 1970, pp. 81-101.

[In the following essay, Levine considers "The Second Coming" in the context of several earlier poems by Yeats, seeing the work " as proof of the speaker's journey toward psychological equanimity" and humankind's imaginative acceptance of responsibility.]

The heroic quest for Yeats was a perdurable subject for poetry, explored first in the longest and one of the earliest of his poems, "Oisin" (1889). Almost immediately after "Oisin," love, the longing for everlasting union with the beloved, became the poet's...

(The entire section is 9116 words.)

Russell E. Murphy (essay date 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Rough Beast' and Historical Necessity: A New Consideration of Yeats's 'The Second Coming'," in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. XIV, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 101-10.

[In the following essay, Murphy turns to Yeats's A Vision for an indication of the meaning of "The Second Coming. " Murphy contradicts typical readings of the poem by focusing on its positive qualities when viewed in this context.]

On April 8, 1938, William Butler Yeats, commenting on the world political scene in a letter to his friend Ethel Mannin, wrote:

If you have my poems by you, look up a poem called "The Second Coming." It was...

(The entire section is 4444 words.)

James Lovic Allen (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "What Rough Beast?: Yeats's 'The Second Coming' and A Vision," in REAL: The Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature, Vol. 3, 1985, pp. 223-63.

[In the following essay, Allen interprets "The Second Coming " as a political poem associated with the rise of communism.]

"The Second Coming," one of Yeats's three or four most famous poems, is also one of his most frequently explicated or analyzed. It is, furthermore, one of the most variously interpreted, perhaps the most variously interpreted. There is no generally accepted reading or any significant degree of consensus about meaning or meanings. One reason for this situation is that the...

(The entire section is 17686 words.)

Jewel Spears Brooker (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Second Coming' and The Waste Land': Capstones of the Western Civilization Course," in College Literature, Vol. XIII, No. 3, Fall, 1986, pp. 240-53.

[In the following essay, Brooker examines "The Second Coming" and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land as these poems confront the decline of western civilization.]

"The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats and The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot are ideal companion poems to use as a capstone experience in a course in Western Civilization. Both poems deal powerfully with the state of civilization in the twentieth century; both suggest that civilization is falling apart and each in its own way reveals the cause of the...

(The entire section is 6171 words.)

Robert F. Fleissner (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "On Straightening Out Yeats's 'Rough Beast'," in CLA Journal, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, December, 1988, pp. 201-8.

[In the following essay, Fleissner speculates on the nature of the "rough beast" in "The Second Coming."]

The bestial image at the tail end of William Butler Yeats's "The Second Coming" is described there as a "rough" one indeed and so deserves some critical straightening out. Hence yet another note on this famous poem may be justified.


As a starter, let us consider a surprising, recent news release, which was boldly captioned, at least in the local papers, as follows: "Move Over, Tarzan: Anthropologist says...

(The entire section is 2668 words.)

Edward Proffitt (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yeats's The Second Coming'," in The Explicato r Vol. 49, No. 3, Spring, 1991, pp. 165-6.

[In the following essay, Proffitt contends that the "rough beast" of "The Second Coming" refers to the offspring of the sphinx-like desert creature in the poem.]

Yeats's "The Second Coming" must be one of the most widely explicated and paraphrased of poems. Still, its closure remains a mystery. If the "rough beast" spoken of at the end is the sphinx-like creature of lines 13-17, how can it be going to be born in Bethlehem when it has already been born in the desert? Indeed, how could any creature slouch toward the place where it is to be born?

Readers of...

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Seamus Deane (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Second Coming': Coming Second; Coming in a Second," in Irish University Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring/Summer, 1992, pp. 92-100.

[In the following essay, Deane studies "The Second Coming" in relation to the accompanying poems of Michael Robartes and the Dancer, concentrating on its combined sexual and historical themes.]

Yeats's famous poem "The Second Coming" is concerned with an ending and a beginning, both of them so interfused that it is scarcely possible to say where the distinction between them can be found.1 The poem does indicate the moment when they appear to disengage. "Hardly are those words out / When. . . . " The phrase "The...

(The entire section is 3763 words.)

A. Raghu (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yeats's The Second Coming'," in The Explicator, Vol. 50, No. 4, Summer, 1992, pp. 224-5.

[In the following essay, Raghu addresses Edward Proffitt's 1991 explication of "The Second Coming." Raghu argues that the "rough beast" of the poem is a mental image or vision, and that the final lines of the poem should not be read literally.]

Edward Proffitt's very original thesis, that the rough beast mentioned in the penultimate line of Yeats's "The Second Coming" is the offspring of the sphinx-like creature of lines 13-17, which was propounded in his note on the poem (Explicator 49.3, spring 1991), definitely makes sense but does not seem to be as wholly...

(The entire section is 771 words.)

Karen Marguerite Moloney (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Re-envisioning Yeats's 'The Second Coming': Desmond O'Grady and the Charles River," in Learning the Trade: Essays on W. B. Yeats and Contemporary Poetry, edited by Deborah Fleming, Locust Hill Press, 1993, pp. 135-47.

[In the following essay, Moloney reads Desmond O'Grady's poem "Professor Kelleher and the Charles River" as a response to the ideas expressed in "The Second Coming."]

In "Professor Kelleher and the Charles River" (Contemporary Irish Poetry 260-62), the narrator, Desmond O'Grady as a young Harvard graduate student, engages in conversation one April afternoon with John Kelleher, professor of Celtic Studies. Nearby runs the gentle but...

(The entire section is 4125 words.)

Nathan Cervo (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yeats's 'The Second Coming'," in The Explicator, Vol. 53, No. 3, Spring, 1995, pp. 161-3.

[In the following essay, Cervo explores the prophetic implications of "The Second Coming" with regard to Christian millennarianism.]

Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" was published in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), a few years after Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, which appeared just after the close of World War I and the Balfour Declaration (1917). In a long note on the widening "gyre" (line 1) mentioned in the poem, Yeats observed: "All our scientific, democratic, fact-accumulating, heterogeneous civilization belongs to the outward gyre...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)

John R. Harrison (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "What Rough Beast?: Yeats, Nietzsche and Historical Rhetoric in The Second Coming'," in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 31, No. 4, Fall, 1995, pp. 362-88.

[In the following essay, Harrison focuses on Nietzschean suggestions in the language and imagery of "The Second Coming. "]

In the absence of a thorough examination of the impact on "The Second Coming" of Yeats's historical thought, it is arguable that the meaning the poet intended has not only been consistently overlooked, but that in general the poem has been taken to mean the opposite of what he intended. This essay offers a reassessment of the thought and imagery, of the response Yeats wished to...

(The entire section is 8853 words.)