How does the use of allusion in Yeats's “The Second Coming” develop the poem's theme?

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The use of allusion in William Butler Yeats's “The Second Coming” is very important to the development of the themes of the poem, as it gives them a cosmic perspective. In the poem, Yeats is warning of an imminent change as the historical epoch ushered in by the birth of Christ comes to an end. The use of allusion, such as the biblical allusion of the title, gives that change a universal significance.

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Yeats's “The Second Coming” concerns the potentially bloody and disruptive transition from one historical epoch to another. Yeats believes that the Christian era is coming to a close, to be replaced by an era altogether more violent and uncertain.

Doubtless aware that his most people will find his historical theories somewhat eccentric, to say the least, Yeats uses allusions as a way of giving his ideas some kind of cosmic significance to make them more respectable, if no less unpalatable.

The most obvious allusion comes in the poem's title: “The Second Coming.” This is an allusion, of course, to the second coming of Christ. However, the second coming that Yeats envisages will be of an altogether different kind from that hoped for by Christians.

Yeats wants us to at least consider the possibility that there may be a second coming that ends the Christian era rather than one that renews it. And the nature of this second coming can be seen in the allusion to some rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.

By this use of Christian allusions, Yeats gives his themes a broad historical and cosmic perspective which at least makes us think about what kind of change might be on the horizon.

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The poem "The Second Coming" depends on a biblically literate audience understanding the many religious allusions in this poem. Since in the 21st century, we tend to be less biblically literate, this can create an interpretive challenge for us. This 1919 poem also alludes to recent events in the world of the poet, specifically the carnage of the recently ended World War I, which was a deeply shocking event to educated Europeans, and the Russian revolution.

The second coming alludes to the second coming of Christ to earth, promised in the biblical book of Revelation, in which he will return to wipe all tears away and initiate the uniting of heaven and earth. Yeats alludes to the events in recent history—"mere anarchy," " blood-dimmed tide," and innocence "drowned"—which are references to World War I and the Russian revolution. The speaker first thinks these events must presage the second coming of Christ, the dawn of some new age.

But life is so grim and bad that the speaker's mind recoils from the possibility of a second coming of love and peace and fixes instead on another biblical allusion: that of Satan's "beast" in Revelation let loose. It seems more likely to the poem's narrator that we are headed for a Satanic period when the devil is set free to roam and wreak havoc. The poem ends on a grim note, asking what "rough beast . . . slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" Bethlehem is an allusion to the birthplace of Jesus. In this new era, however, the speaker believes, a beast, not a savior, is going to be visited upon the earth.

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In the title, Yeats alludes to an event that Christians call the second coming of Christ. They believe that, when Christ returns to the earth in glory, he will burn all the evil people who are alive, judging everyone and separating the wicked from the righteous. This will begin a thousand-year era in which Jesus reigns on the earth. Anyone who is dead and can be numbered with the righteous will be resurrected to enjoy this time of peace on earth with Christ. Many believe that Christ's return will be preceded by a number of plagues and troubles on the earth. In the poem, a falcon strays too far from its master and can no longer hear his commands. This is actually an allusion to the sport of falconry. Yeats seems to combine these two allusions to create a symbol which suggests that humankind is moving too far away from God, that we can no longer hear his commands so to speak. As a result, the earth seems to spiral toward chaos, and only bad people seem to feel passionately anymore.

Things have gotten so bad, so violent on earth that the speaker thinks the second coming must be close. He imagines a monstrous creature, with a lion's body and man's head, something that feels nothing toward us (the opposite of Christ) and whose birth seems to presage an era or horror (the twentieth century with all its wars) rather than peace. It could be that this beast is a symbol of divine justice, meant to work toward the end of humankind because we have become so evil, or that it is actually symbolic of all the evil we would do in the era following this poem's publication.

Either way, the allusions in the poem help to illuminate the theme that humanity has become so wicked and violent that there will surely be some kind of divine retribution rather than reward.

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William Butler Yeats' poem, "The Second Coming", relies heavily on two separate systems of allusion and religious symbolism. The first is Christianity, especial the New Testament Book of Revelation, and the second is Yeats' own personal theological and historical system, which is a combination of Vico, late 19th century spiritualist movements, and the Celtic revival.

The title and main event of the poem refer to the theme of the Second Coming of Christ, which in Christianity is the end of the world and the time at which all people will be judged and sent to either Heaven or Hell. The beast is one of the signs that the second coming is at hand, and its return to Bethlehem is a completion of the historical cycle begun with the incarnation.

Allusion is crucial to the development of the theme of the poem.

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