What Rough Beast?

“William Butler Yeats is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.” The Poetry Foundation 

And I certainly agree.

At the risk of becoming a Yeats “bore,” I am going to provide my readers with yet another “Yeats fix.” This time it’s the rightfully famous and revered shorter poem “The Second Coming.” It’s been rattling around in my mind for weeks because it seems to me unusually prescient and apropos of the current news, both national and international.

It makes me reflect and wonder . . . Does the breakdown of civility in human discourse (from social media to national politics, all the way to world “diplomacy”) herald a breakdown in civilization?  Once I might have thought such a thing impossible, not worth a moment’s consideration or passing glance . . . but no more, sad to say.  What do you think?

Audio of “The Second Coming” read by William Butler Yeats

“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?
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)
[There is supposed to be a stanza break just before the line that begins “Surely . . .” For the life of me, I can’t get WP to show it.  Anybody have any ideas?]

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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9 Responses to What Rough Beast?

  1. robert okaji says:

    Yeats! Regarding the stanza break, you might try a “shift-return” combination.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bowmanauthor says:

    Wonderful posting! One of my favorites, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dgkaye says:

    This poem is almost cryptic, Margaret. It feels as though he may have seen into the future. I too find it apropos for the times we are living in. 🙂 ❤


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