Yeats had a cyclical view of history in which very briefly much the same events come round roughly every two thousand years, each cycle or era, or in Yeats's own terminology, each complete expansion of the gyre, starts off with a union between the divine and the human. Thus the Virgin Mary's conception of Jesus initiated the Christian epoch, which, by the twentieth century, was nearly at its end. In this poem, written in 1920, Yeats foresees that end, and has a vision of what's on the horizon.

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?

Recording commissioned by the Poetry Archive, shared here with kind permission of our reader.

William Butler Yeats in the Poetry Store

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