Sunday, April 02, 2017

National Poetry Month 2017: William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

Here is a poem so well-known and so significant that it has almost become a cliche. G'Kar quoted it in an episode of Babylon 5 to foreshadow the coming conflict. In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the Technical Boy (the New God of the Internet and its associated technologies) tries to quote it, almost mockingly, in an attempt to solemnize the death (well, murder) of a major character - and finds out that, cut off from the Internet in the isolated and unholy location known as The Center, he cannot recall the words.

 This text is from the version posted on

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?

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