Skip to Main Content

Yeats and Visions of the Apocalypse: Home

An online research guide for students of Anna Maria Hong's Literature 4167 class.

A portrait of W.B. Yeats in 1920

The Second Coming

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?

Course Description

Literature 4167: Yeats and Visions of the Apocalypse

Anna Maria Hong

This course takes William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” as its starting point, launching from this often invoked poem to other poems and writings by Yeats that concern his unusual concepts of time, aging, and apocalypse including his prose work A Vision. We will examine Yeats’s prosodic choices regarding meter, rhyme, and form and how these musical decisions enhance his political messages. We may also read and hear works by other writers and artists that embrace “The Second Coming’s” prophetic warnings such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and musical incarnations of the poem’s themes and lines.