“The only living man
whose work has more than a most temporary interest”
Butler Yeats (1865-1939), probably the greatest English poet of the twentieth
century whose unusual creative potential was readily apparent as a young man,
especially to his Irish contemporaries.
His poetry is characterized by its intense lyricism, its use of symbolism, its
sensuous beauty, precision and realism.
Second Coming” was written in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War
(1914-1918) and was first published in the American magazine The Dial in November 1920. Later on it
was included in the volume entitled Michael
Robartes and the Dancer in the year 1921. It was written at a time when
Yeats was puzzled by violence displayed by events like the Easter Rebellion of
1916, the Irish Civil War that followed it and the European great World War of
1914 to 1918. And in terms, of his philosophy of history a new age in the
world’s history was going to begin. “The Second Coming” written with the Irish
troubles, the Great War and other troubles in mind and displaying his
philosophy of A Vision which he was
to formulate and organize in 1925. This visionary poem enhanced his reputation
as a leading cultural figure of his time.
poem is a dramatized presentation of Yeats’s cyclical theory of the historical
process, according to which human civilization moves forward in antithetical or
dialectial epochs, each of approximately two thousand years’ duration. The
Christian civilization marked the termination of the ‘Babylonian mathematical
starlight’ which began around 2000B.C. In a 1936 letter to a friend, Yeats said
that the poem was ‘written some 16 or 17 years ago and foretold what is
happening’, that is, Yeats poetically predicted the rise of a rough beast or a
new messiah that manifested as chaos and upheaval in the form of Nazism and
Fascism, bringing Europe to its knees. This sphinx- like creature typified the
characteristics of the future civilization.
gloomy prognostication of the future was provoked by the political anarchy in
Ireland, the unsettled state of Europe generally and especially the Bolshevik
revolution in Russia. ‘Manuscripts in Mrs. Yeats’s possession show how large a
part the world situation of 1918-1919 played in its conception and
growth'(Stallworthy, p.17). The theory of history or each cycle of history is
imagined by the poet as a circular or spiral turn or ‘gyre’. At the end of each
age, the base of the cone widens.