11. The Second Coming; Things Fall Apart

The Second Coming William Yeats

William Butler Yeats: “The Second Coming” (1921)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center 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
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand;
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus
Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries
of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

What is Yeats trying to say? The phrase “Second Coming” commonly refers to the second time Jesus will visit Earth and give the “final judgment.” On his coming, Jesus will differentiate those with faith and those who don’t believe in Christianity. The second coming in Yeats poem, however, representsa slightly different theme. He is drawing an overall imagery of the twentieth century, how every chain of historical event is simply a “cycle” (like a gyre). He is explaining that the Europe’s “end” for the cycle is imminent with the rise of Christianity.

The reader’s of the novel Things Fall Apart might realize that a section of the poem is written on the earlier pages, with the specific phrase, things fall apart, in it. Why? We can perceive this inclusion from several perspectives. First, it might represent the Ibo cultures’ scattering, due to the European and Christian influences. The African natives are losing their faith in their own cultures and traditions, and are becoming “Westernized.” The culture is splitting up. We can also infer to the individual’s break-down. Okonkwo, the main character of the novel, is losing his position and importance in the changing village system, and facing myriads of tribulations. He eventually hangs himself because of his hatred towards the “weak cowards” in his villages. The village isn’t like the past; no one is willing to fight like a real man.

In this sense, we can attribute that the “beast” in the last line of the poem to be the Europeans. They are the source of pandemonium, diaspora, and change. From their arrival, the village lost its color, and Okonkwo lost his pride.

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