- Yeats’ developed a philosophical theory (later published as “A Vision”) about gyres and the cyclical nature of history.
- Yeats’ theory was that civilisation moves in 2000 year cycles of change during which society grows, matures and declines. At the end of the cycle, a new society will arise and the old will fall away.
How is this poem a reflection of Yeats’ theories? What is the old society falling away – Christianity, Western society? What is the new society arising – Islam, paganism, mysticism?
Is this a poem about the inevitability of change and deterioration, and a fear of the unknown future?
- In stanza one, there are three instances of repetition – “turning”, “cannot” and “loosed”. What is the effect of each of these?
- What does the reference to the “widening gyre” refer to?
- What do you think the “falcon” and “falconer” symbolise?
- In the third line, the sentences are shortened through the semi-colons. What is the effect of this? How does it change the rhythm?
- Why do you think Yeats describes the anarchy as “mere”?
- What are some examples of high modality language in stanza one?
- What are some examples of metaphors in stanza one?
- What are three techniques used in the first three lines of stanza two?
- What does Spiritus Mundi mean?
- How is the “rough beast” described? What is suggested about its nature and power?
- Why does Yeats’ use the image of the sphinx to represent this second coming?
- What do the “indignant desert birds” represent?
- Why is this description set in the “waste of desert sand”?
- What is Yeats asking in the question in the last two lines?
Relation to other poems:
- Easter 1916 is another poem, which consider the nature of change and expresses a similar anxiety – “terrible beauty is born”.