THE SECOND COMING
by W.B. 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 Spritus 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?
Written in 1919, the lines “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity” can be read as a paraphrase of one of the most famous passages from Percy Shelley‘s Prometheus Unbound, a book which Yeats, by his own admission, regarded from his childhood with religious awe:
- The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
- The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
- The wise want love, and those who love want wisdom;
- And all best things are thus confused to ill.