The poem is a captivating piece of symbolic expression. Its appeal is universal and related to many modern communities. Likewise, it also depicts the existing circumstances of Pakistan. It might reflect political scenes but is also filled with poetic and aesthetic diction and appeal.
In April 1936, three years before his death, WB Yeats received a letter from the writer and activist Ethel Mannin. The 70-year-old Yeats was a Nobel prize-winning poet of immense stature and influence, not to mention Mannin’s former lover, and she asked him to join a campaign to free a German pacifist incarcerated by the Nazis. Yeats responded instead with a reading recommendation: “If you have my poems by you, look up a poem called ‘The Second Coming’,” he wrote. “It was written some sixteen or seventeen years ago & foretold what is happening. I have written of the same thing again & again. With your strong practical sense, this will seem little to you; it takes fifty years for a poet’s weapons to influence the issue.”
Yeats was justified in taking the long view. Written in 1919 and published in 1920, “The Second Coming” has become perhaps the most plundered poem in the English language. At 164 words, it is short and memorable enough to be famous in toto. Still, it has also been disassembled into its constituent parts by books, albums, movies, TV shows, comic books, computer games, political speeches and newspaper editorials. While many poems in Yeats’s corpus have contributed memorable lines to the storehouse of the cultural imagination (“no country for old men”; “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart”), “The Second Coming” consists of almost nothing but such lines. Someone reading it for the first time in 2020 might resemble the apocryphal theatregoer complaining that Hamlet was just a bunch of quotations strung together. Whether or not it is Yeats’s greatest poem, it is his most valuable. As Auden wrote in “In Memory of WB Yeats” (1939), “The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living.”
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 the 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?
The summary of the poem contains the simple theme of the poem. It discusses that humans are losing control over sanity and becoming increasingly violent. There is no unifying force, and anarchy is prevalent across. People are scared of one another, and bloodshed is on the rise. Human values are fast diminishing, and the whole process is in the hands of cruels. However, in the last part of the poem, the writer symbolically explains the second coming and provides hope for the readers.
- Flying around and around in a widening spiral, a falcon can no longer hear the call of its owner. Things are breaking down, and their foundation is giving way. Pure destruction and lawlessness have spread worldwide, and so has a tidal wave darkened by blood. This tide has swallowed all the rituals of innocence. The best people aren’t motivated to act, but the worst are vigorous and eager.
- Some revelation has to happen soon, and the Second Coming must be close. Excitedly, the speaker exclaims: “The Second Coming!” But just as the speaker says this, a vision comes to the speaker from the world’s collective unconscious. The speaker sees a barren desert land, where a creature with a man’s head and a lion’s body is coming to life. Its expression is, like the sun, empty and without pity. Its legs are moving slowly, and all around it fly the shadows of disturbed desert birds. Everything becomes dark again, but the speaker knows something new: two thousand years of calm have been irreversibly disrupted by the shaking of a cradle. The speaker asks: what beast, whose time has finally come, is dragging itself towards Bethlehem, where it will be born?
The poem befittingly covers the present circumstances in Pakistan. All is falling apart, and nothing is coherent. There is no unifying force which could unite all and sundry. A unifying force can be the rule of law. People are scared and in enmity mode. There is no peace. Human values are fast deteriorating. There is anarchy unleashing. The symbolism and expressions are related to Pakistan. Pakistan is also facing the same circumstances.
Then, the second coming is evident. Change is also on the horizon. Likewise, Pakistan needs transformation and change for good. Similarly, there is a change in the air in Pakistan. It might not be visible; however, there are fewer signs of change. The second coming is also in the offing for Pakistan. The poem is symbolic and expresses two different extremes. One can also hope that the poem’s second part might reflect a better future for Pakistan.