Student Question

What does the falcon not hearing the falconer metaphor in "The Second Coming" signify about modern society?

Expert Answers

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Falconry was a sport traditionally associated with kings and the aristocracy. It was a sport of gentlemen, not something to be associated with the common run of humanity. It's no accident, then, that Yeats, who firmly adheres to an elitist view of political life, should use the falcon and the falconer as metaphors for what he regards as the appropriate relationship between the governors and the governed but which he sees as under threat from rapid social change.

In "The Second Coming," the falconer represents the aristocratic elite that dominated the traditional social hierarchy. These aristocrats were firmly in charge of political life, whose most prominent positions they tended to monopolize. Yeats has a certain nostalgic longing for those days when aristocrats gave orders and the ordinary folk instinctively obeyed them. He believes that the Anglo-Irish gentry, the ruling class of Ireland, is born to rule and is possessed of certain inherited qualities that make it uniquely suited to taking on the cultural and political leadership of society.

The falcon, on the other hand, represents the common people. Like the bird of prey in the sport of falconry, they are to be controlled by the falconer, i.e. the aristocracy. Unfortunately for Yeats, changes in society have meant that the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. In other words, with society becoming more open and democratic, the common people no longer listen to or obey their alleged social betters. The consequences of such insubordination are dire; "Things fall apart".

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