Poems > Irish > Yeats

The Second Coming
By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
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 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?
W. B. Yeats
(William Butler Yeats)
Born: June 13, 1865, Sandymount, Republic of Ireland
Died: January 28, 1939, Menton, France
Buried: September 1948, Drumcliff Cemetery, Republic of Ireland

    His father, John Butler Yeats (1839–1922), was a descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier, linen merchant, and well-known painter who died in 1712.
     Benjamin Yeats, Jervis's grandson and William's great-great-grandfather, had in 1773 married Mary Butler of a landed family in County Kildare. Following their marriage, they kept the name Butler in the family name. Mary was a descendant of the Butler of Ormond family from the Neigham (pronounced Nyam) Gowran branch of the family. They were descendants of the first Earls of Ormond.

    His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen, came from a wealthy merchant family in Sligo, who owned a milling and shipping business. Soon after William's birth the family relocated to the Pollexfen home at Merville, Sligo to stay with her extended family, and the young poet came to think of the area as his childhood and spiritual home. Its landscape became, over time, both literally and symbolically, his "country of the heart" So also did its location on the sea; John Yeats stated that "by marriage with a Pollexfen, we have given a tongue to the sea cliffs". The Butler Yeats family were highly artistic; his brother Jack became an esteemed painter, while his sisters Elizabeth and Susan Mary—known to family and friends as Lollie and Lily—became involved in the Arts and Crafts movement.
...for the enjoyment
and passion of words and verse.        Page updated: June 13, 2018
Above, Yeats in Dublin in 1923.

    Today, in honor of William Butler Yeats (born on this day 'June 13' in 1865), we explore the lasting influence of his most ubiquitous poem, "The Second Coming."
Written in 1919, (first printed in The Dial in November 1920, and afterwards included in his 1921 collection of verses Michael Robartes and the Dancer.) the poem is considered a towering achievement of modernist poetry. Yeats drew on Christian apocalyptic imagery to capture the violent chaos of the political turmoil in Europe at the time, and to warn of further dangers on the horizon.
    So often have the poem's phrases been incorporated into other works of art and literature that The Paris Review has called it "the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English."
    There is, of course, Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart," and Joan Didion's short story collection "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," but lines from the poem have proliferated in many more book titles, speeches, folk albums, CD-ROM games and tweets, as well.
    An episode of "The Sopranos" called "The Second Coming" features the poem, as does a Batman comic book series called "The Widening Gyre."
    There was an uptick in references to the poem in 2016, as writers and pundits grasped for language to describe the series of dramatic political shifts in Europe and the U.S.* - Emma McAleavy, New York Times

* A 2016 analysis by Factiva showed that lines from the poem were quoted more often in the first seven months of 2016 than in any of the preceding 30 years. In the context of political turmoil after the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump's election, commentators repeatedly invoked its lines: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." - Wikipedia
Go Deeper Read: No Slouch - The widening gyre of heavy-handed allusions to Yeats's "The Second Coming." by Nick Tabor April 7, 2015 in The Paris Review
Susan Mary Yeats at Red Ford house, Greystones, [c.1910]. Photographer: Elizabeth Corbet Yeats.
W.B. Yeats and his muses: with his wife, Georgie (fondly remembered as George) Hyde-Lees; Olivia Shakespear; Maud Gonne age 23, in 1889; Iseult Gonne
The women who influenced the poetry of W.B. Yeats.
John Butler Yeats
by Alice Boughton
     Anne Yeats was born on May 9th, 1919 her father was approaching his 54th birthday. And when his only son Michael was born on August 22nd, 1921, he'd already turned 56.
     Yeats wife, their mother, George Hyde-Lees was 26 years younger than Yeats and it was she who raised the two children with a little help from the Nobel-winning laureate.
     Convention wasn't Yeats's forte, and nor did he necessarily want it to be, but his little family was a mainly content one and his children wanted for little.