Discussion Topic

The central theme and main idea in "The Second Coming."

Summary:

The central theme in "The Second Coming" is the disintegration of the current world order and the chaotic birth of a new era. The poem reflects on societal collapse, spiritual crisis, and the cyclical nature of history, portraying a sense of impending doom and transformation.

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What is the basic theme of the poem "The Second Coming"?

In order to understand the basic theme of the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats, it is important to put the work into historical context. Yeats wrote it in 1919, just after witnessing the devastating carnage of World War I, the violent 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, and the bloody Russian Revolution of 1917. The poem draws upon the despair brought on by the horrors unleashed upon the world by these terrible conflicts.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned . . .

The basic theme of the poem is the death of the old world, to be followed by the rebirth of a new one. It draws upon Biblical symbolism of the apocalypse and the second coming of Christ to make its point. However, Yeats poses the question of what will be born out of this overwhelming chaos. In Bethlehem, the Christ child was born, which, according to Christians, represented the birth of peace and salvation for humankind. However, in "The Second Coming," a different, horrifying, Sphinx-like creature rises out of the desert, indicating that the destruction of this world may not be followed by peace and prosperity, but rather by further chaos and despair.

In fact, this poem proved to be prophetic in the context of world history, because after World War I came worldwide economic ruin, the rise of Hitler and fascism, and the even more horrifying conflict of World War II.

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What is the basic theme of the poem "The Second Coming"?

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Key to understanding this poem is the way that the poet uses irony to challenge our expectations. The title, "The Second Coming," leads us to believe that this poem concerns the traditional belief of the Second Coming of Jesus, a time of peace and justice for all humanity. However, the second coming of this poem will, by contrast, be associated with a new era of warfare of savagery, characterised in the following lines:

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 poem ends with an ominously ironic tone as the "rocking cradle" at Bethlehem in which Jesus the baby was born is placed next to the arrival of a "rough beast" that seems to symbolise the advent of the grim epoch that humanity will face in the future.

Thus the poem points towards a horrendous future. It is important to remember that this poem was written in the aftermath of World War I, which was a historical event that shocked so many people. Thematically therefore, Yeats uses this poem to express his distrust in the comforting belief of the Second Coming. For Yeats, looking at history only reveals how, more and more, "the ceremony of innocence is drowned" and mankind is characterised by darkness, warfare and violence, as in the First World War. Looking ahead, Yeats sees no light at the end of the tunnel, but an ever more marked collapse of society.

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What is an explanation of the poem "The Second Coming"?

"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.

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What is an explanation of the poem "The Second Coming"?

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.

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Please give an explanation of the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats.

Yeats writes this poem after World War I.  The conflict had left Europe completely ravaged, cut adrift from any hope.  The victors were left to survey the immense loss of human life and transformation of their society, while the losers had to deal with this reality as well as the shame of losing.  Both sides began to understand that the principles and ideas which guided them into war had been tested, and to a certain extent, deemed false.  In this vacuum where disbelief and a lack of faith began to permeate Europe of the 1920s.  In this, Yeats writes his poem.  The first stanza reveals a world where disorder and disunity reign supreme.  The elements that used to define consciousness, such as "the falcon" heeding the words of "the falconer" are absent.  The idea of unity and symmetry has been supplanted with a reality where "the center cannot hold."  This condition ends with a vision of good being silenced while "the worst are filled with passionate intensity."  The second stanza seeks to provide the Christian notion of redemption in the Second Coming of Christ.  Yeats inverts this vision with bringing forth a vision where what is coming is not redemption but a monster that proves to be worse than anything imaginable.  This creature, arising from the ashes of complete disarray and fragmentation, ends up "slouching towards Bethlehem" and waits to be born.  Yeats' vision offered helps to encapsulate two fundamental ideas.  The first is that the condition of Europe is one where what was proven to be taken as absolute is no longer valid while the second premise holds that something worse awaits in a predicament where hoping for better is the only thing to which one can cling.  It is especially prophetic to place this in the context of Pre Nazi Germany.

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Please give an explanation of the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats.

Yeats believed that history was formed into 2,000 year cycles, with the birth of Christ having initiated the cycle he and everyone else was living in at the time of the poem.

The beast slouching toward Bethlehem is the next coming.  Notice the beast is slouching toward Bethlehem--the birthplace of Christ according to Christian tradition, of course.  Something is coming.

Yeats, like Blake before him, created his own mythology to explain existence.  The gyre, etc., are part of his personal mythology.

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Please give an explanation of the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats.

The particular 'world' in this case was the Irish fight for freedom from England, which Yeats knew was going to be a bloody and unjust one in which many youngsters and older "brothers in arms" would sacrifice their lives for the cause. Also on his mind, and being aired in many newspapers was the strife in Europe which could give rise to another world war. In his poem "The Second Coming" W. B. Yeats presents his mixed feelings - his love for Ireland and its freedom - and  yet the scary thought that this freedom might end up as anarchy where "the centre cannot hold" and he and all the other citizens would be "turning and turning in the widening gyre" of a frightening new political force in the world.

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Please give an explanation of the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats.

The basic idea behind this poem is probably best summed up by the phrase "things fall apart."  The speaker in the poem seems to be worrying that the world is getting to be out of control -- the falcon is spiraling around, getting out of control of its owner, the center cannot hold, etc.

Furthermore, the speaker implies that there is nothing coming to save us.  The second coming, he says, surely must be coming.  But then he goes on to say that it is not.  Instead, some monster "slouches towards Bethlehem to be born."

So, what he seems to be saying is that the world is falling apart and there is nothing that is going to save us.

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What is the main idea in "The Second Coming"?

The main idea in "The Second Coming" can seem elusive, especially because the poem ends with a complicated question that takes up the last five lines of the poem. However, an understanding of W. B. Yeats' concept of the "gyre" in line 1 can be helpful. Yeats believed history consisted of two-thousand-year cycles, and that at the end of the 20th century the current cycle would end and the next one would be ushered in. The current cycle in 1919 when the poem was written had begun with the birth of Jesus Christ. Yeats noted that he was living in a chaotic time--"things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." The world had just experienced the Great War, a wider spread and more deadly conflict than any that had previously occurred. Yeats, looking back on the current cycle, felt that it had regressed to the point where "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Thinking of the next 2000-year cycle, which he calls "the Second Coming," Yeats is filled with pessimism and dread. He imagines a "rough beast" rising from the sands in the desert and wonders what it is, but as seems clear from the description and the questions, he anticipates that nothing good can come in the next cycle. If the current cycle, as bad as it is, was kicked off by "a rocking cradle," a harmless if impotent event, then how much worse will be the next cycle, which is being heralded by this ominous beast? The main idea, then, seems to be pessimism about the current age and even more pessimism about the future. 

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