1919 | Oxford

On the Bright Side

W.B. Yeats envisions the second coming.

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 toward Bethlehem to be born?


W.B. Yeats

“The Second Coming.” Furnishing titles for books by writers as diverse as Chinua Achebe and Joan Didion, this poem was written in the aftermath of World War I and at the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. Yeats became a senator in the new Irish Free State in 1922, receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature one year later. “What instruments we have agree,” elegized W.H. Auden, “The day of his death was a dark cold day.” Yeats died on January 28, 1939, at the age of seventy-four.