Attempting an Explication of 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 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?

Some rough beast, a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun is slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. Maybe the biggest question of this poem is why is the thing slouching? It’s a huge monster with a lion body. We think of lion bodies as being fierce, muscular, solar king-like, even devine in their beautiful symmetry (“What immortal hand or eye/ dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”) not slouchy! Lions are proud. People who slouch are ashamed and or dejected with being. For someone about to become Jesus 2.0, the next savior of the world, he’s not too excited about taking the job, that’s for sure!

And why go back to the original place? London, Paris, or New York would seem a more appropriate place for a new savior of this day and age to be born. With going back to the Levant, I sense its a metaphor that the ideals of the pagan West, namely that of the ideal of the individual, which is what the sense of the Grail romances, the pagan myths and fairy-tales, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment are all about, have now been thoroughly overthrown, for the ideals of the Levant which are that of the group. If you’ve ever experienced a mob mentality break out, you definitely have seen gazes that are blank, pitiless, and soulless. That’s the equivalent of falling to all three temptations of the Buddha (Lust, Fear, Social Duty) in one fell swoop.

But why use “the Sun” as a simile? That definitely catches your attention. The sun is usually a metaphor and simile used for bright and hopeful sentiments. But not if your walking across the desert, right? Also, if you think of the sun only in its scientific definition, if you leave out the romance, mythological dimension of life, and only understand it as a function of physics, groveling as it were before shear fact, then the sun is indeed dead, a ruthless fireball fusing hydrogen into helium, that cares not a wit about life.

Some part of us knows something is wrong, but….

We are vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.

Say what? Here’s my shot: A “rocking” cradle suggests instability, an unknowingness in an instinctual way, of whose side the MOTHER is on. Is she Athena or Circe? Does she want to kill us or for us to be the savior of the universe? Or in a way, as only Greek Mythology can intimate, be both? Or in another sense, the ground of our own being, of life’s being. Is it an inherently good thing, evil thing, or indifferent? I.e. “Something that should not have been,” as Schopenhauer suggests. Is nature, this thing that our consciousness rests on, inherently nasty, disgusting, and evil? If one has that sense, you will certainly be vexed to nightmare all the way back to birth.

This is when it gets exciting, the adventure. Because this is the entire sense of the burning point what is uniquely you that wants, that must be expressed, that has never been expressed before. Becoming imminent, and yet in a gesture to the East, most likely spontaneously, as the eminence of transcendence, completely without ego.

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