The Second Coming

The Second Coming Study Guide

"The Second Coming" is a poem by William Butler Yeats, written in 1919, several years after the end of World War I. It is named after the Christian "Second Coming," which is the Biblical prophecy that predicts Jesus's return to earth to reign after the end of days.

Yeats's poem describes a very different kind of "Second Coming": an apocalypse led by not Jesus Christ, but rather by a "rough beast" whose approach forms the poem's mysterious conclusion. Reflecting a widespread mood of disenchantment and alienation immediately after the first World War, the poem suggests that modernity represents a kind of chaos, the collapse of civilization rather than its apex.

The poem is written in a variant on iambic pentameter, in which each line is made up of five iambic feet, but the poem varies and riffs on this form, making its internal structure not entirely obvious. Since its publication, it has been referenced in a multitude of contemporary contexts. The title of Chinua Achebe's book about the West's encroachment on Africa is Things Fall Apart (a line from the poem), while Joan Didion's hugely influential 1968 essay on the counterculture was called "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," also a line from Yeats' poem.

But no work has rivaled the concise intensity of the original text, which continues to resonate through the present day with its bleak, unflinching look into the heart of modern chaos.