Text of the Poem

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?


  1. The adjective “vexed” means to feel frustration, distress, or irritation. Yeats creates a subtle contrast between the turmoil described in the preceding stanza and the “stony sleep” that was “vexed to nightmare” over the last twenty centuries—since Christ ascended into heaven, according to Christian tradition. Thus, it seems that bloodiness and anarchy are symptomatic of the Second Coming as opposed to being its cause.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The repetition of “ee” sounds in the words “twenty,” “centuries,” “stony,” and “sleep” is an example of assonance, or the repetition of vowel sounds. Here, assonance subtly draws out the reading process by highlighting similar sounds, thus urging the reader to take note of the scene that has unfolded in the speaker’s vision.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The adjective “indignant” means to experience or express anger or displeasure at what is perceived as unfair or unjust. Its use here suggests not only that the beast has disturbed the desert birds as it moves towards Bethlehem, but also that its presence is generally unjust, which sharply contrasts with the Christian idea of the righteousness and inevitability of the Second Coming.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The “shape with lion body and the head of a man” is a mythological creature: the sphinx. Sphinxes are present in a number of pre-Christian mythologies, with the most famous being those of Egypt and of Greece. The New Testament describes the Second Coming as being preceded by the appearance of beasts which persecute the faithful. Yeats subverts the reader’s expectations by portraying the arrival of a pre-Christian, “pitiless” monster instead of biblical beasts or the expected forgiveness of Christ.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Yeats employs sibilance, or the repetition of words containing the letter “s,” in line thirteen. The hissing sound generated when these sibilant words are read aloud creates a foreboding, sinister tone that foreshadows the speaker’s vision as a horrific one.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The phrase “Spiritus Mundi” is Latin for “world spirit.” Yeats is engaging with the Platonic idea that all people are united in one collective mind and that a person’s imagination reflects the contents of this broad consciousness. Referring to Spiritus Mundi here thus lends significance to the “vast image” the speaker sees, for this vision is derived from humanity’s collective mind as opposed to one person’s subjective musings.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Lines nine and ten use epistrophe, or the repetition of words at the end of successive lines or phrases. Yeats repeats the words “is at hand” to underscore the urgency of the present moment—specifically, humanity’s desperate need for relief from “the blood-dimmed tide” of “mere anarchy” that has been “loosed upon the world.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Yeats alludes to the Christian belief in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Many Christians believe, based on messianic prophecies in the New Testament, that Christ will rise again for a second time. Though specific ideas about the Second Coming vary by Christian denomination, most Christians believe that Christ’s return will bring salvation and access to the Kingdom of Heaven.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Lines five, six, and seven feature anaphora, or the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of successive lines or phrases. By repeating “the” at the beginnings of successive lines, Yeats rhetorically conveys emotional intensity in a way that reinforces both the poem’s chaotic imagery and its rhythm.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The noun “anarchy” means a state of social disarray, usually in the absence of—or the refusal to acknowledge—authority. Yeats’s understatement in the phrase “mere anarchy”—where “mere” takes on an archaic meaning of total or absolute—illustrates the dismal state of society while also suggesting that people are suffering because they lack an orderly authority figure such as God.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Yeats includes a caesura in this line. A caesura is a break, usually in the form of punctuation, within a line of verse. Here, interrupting this line with a semicolon (;) creates a pause that underscores the extent of the described destruction. Doing so builds the reader’s expectations of either a resolution or a catastrophic ending, which is immediately addressed in the second stanza.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The noun “gyre” refers to a spiraling form. In this poem, Yeats portrays time as a turbulent force spiraling outward, carrying society forward in confusion and disorder.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Diacope is a device by which a word is repeated with one or two other words intervening. “The Second Coming” uses diacope several times, beginning with the first line. By repeating the word “turning” in rapid succession, Yeats emphasizes the cyclical progression of time while establishing rhythm and musicality.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff