WB Yeats’ The Second Coming


  • 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”.


1 comment for “WB Yeats’ The Second Coming

  1. May 9, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    Some interesting questions on Yeats’s poem:-

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