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The Spirit Of Yeats Essay, Research Paper

Darr1

Christin Darr

Dr. Arthur Edward Salmon

Eng.II 9:45a.m.

25 May 2000

The Spirit of William Butler Yeats and ?The Second Coming?

?Surely the Second coming is at hand;?

when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight:? A shape with a lion

body and the head of a man, / A gaze blank

And pitiless as the sun,?(2.9-15).

Is the world actually coming to an end? Is this sphinx-like creature truly our inevitable savior? Or, is Yeats? life and things surrounding it coming to chaos? Is the war and restless spirit of Ireland influencing Yeats? work? On the other hand, is Yeats trying to help one to understand the frustrations of their own lives on a more personal level? The depth of Yeats?s work, among many other great poets, is immeasurable. Many surrounding emotions, and intentions may go into this poem, along with various other subsidies the poet may not even be aware of. This is precisely why the literature department, or lack of, in many schools is weakening. Too many teachers, professors, and now students focus either solely on rhyme and meter or the ?obvious? reason a poet might compose a poem, such as personal relationships, failures, earthly surroundings, or mental distress.

The educators of students today need to be more open-minded on the interpretations one has for a particular poem. Literature has been a very strong

Darr2

foundation for any prosperous civilization. For centuries poets will be immortalized in classes and books. However, as their words are remembered their spirit has been lost. When analyzing a great poet?s work such as Yeats, the most obvious interpretation is usually not the correct one. Literature helps open minds to endless possibilities in every possible aspect. If students are taught to just accept explanations and are discouraged from questioning or even thinking for themselves, then the world will soon become full of conformed, mindless robots. Future leaders of the world must be taught to analyze everything. They must be taught to use their imaginations and logical thinking together. That is a most powerful combination in the hands of a determined student. The process must be in the root of this thinking. It must begin with literature. Throughout Yeats? life he has produced numerous controversial poems. Many people hold their own, very strong, opinions about poems. The truth is, there is not only one.

Yeats had many different influences when writing ?The Second Coming?, and it is important for the reader to know each of them before they can even begin to understand the many meanings and interpretations of this poem. Yeats?s poetry has three major influences. The more obvious one is the fact that Yeats was from Ireland, and at the time that this poem was written, World War II was affecting Ireland. However, WWII was not something knew to the Ireland?s culture because for the past 300 years Ireland had been involved in many other wars and at the same time trying to gain their independence. Another influence on Yeats?s writing was his personal religion, Gnosticism. According to Harold Bloom, Yeats believed Christianity to be ?the barbarian theosophy,? and declined to distinguish it form Gnosticism (1). Gnosticism

Darr3

has to do with searching for self-knowledge and rejecting the society of their time. This seems to have been quite appropriate for Yeats and his writing. The third influence on Yeats?s writing was the work of other philosophical writers such as Shelley, Blake, and Nietzsche. Yeats used some of the imagery and context of their previous works to help describe the meaning of ?The Second Coming.?

When reading ?The Second Coming? one?s first impression might be of someone who felt as though they had no control of their life and therefore life was about to come to an end. That interpretation was not well thought out and very narrow-minded. The meaning is much more complex than that.

?The Second Coming? is a very powerful piece of poetry, and one of the most universal admired poems of the 20th century. Attempting to understand William Butler Yeats?s work is almost impossible unless you let one to become completely open-minded on every aspect of the poem. There are many different theories as to what the true meaning of ?The Second Coming? really is. The fact of the matter is that Yeats

purposefully has more than one interpretation of ?The Second Coming.? He wants the average person to open his or her creative mind and to analyze every influence, language, and imagery to understand the message he is trying to get across.

When reading the opening lines of ?The Second Coming? there are two meaning Yeats is trying to portray. In the opening figuration, the center is man, unable as the falconer to no longer maintain control over a ?turning and turning? movement. Man is going through constant chaos that is affecting all of society. It is described, as ?Things

Darr4

are falling apart; the center cannot hold;?(1.3). However, there is evidence also suggesting that the falconer is also the poet himself. The poet is loosing control of his

own creativity. He has a powerful and creative message to get across but struggles to put it on paper. This presentation, either way, is breaking down, or falling apart.

At the end of the first stanza Yeats describes and uses imagery when stating, ?The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned;? (1.5-6). This of course refers to the biblical story of Noah and the great flood. Yeats is painting a picture of an ocean of blood, which symbolizes the ?last wave?, or the end of the world.

In the beginning of the second stanza words are crucial here, for Yeats ?surely? is showing us how insure he is, the repetition of ?surely? betraying his uncertainty. When Yeats repeated the words ?the Second Coming? he is either referring to the Christian Second Coming of Christ or the Gnostic Second Birth of their Demigod. Either interpretation is a great change and uncertainty. Next Yeats describes the spirit of the world or ?Spiritus Mundi.? This image is identical with ?Anima Mundi,? the second part of Per Amica Silentia Lunae, written also by Yeats just two years before (Cowell 15).

In the second half of the last stanza Yeats states:

?somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and 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 birds? (2.5-9).

Yeats is describing a male Sphinx, Egyptian rather than Greek; also there is evidence that the Sphinx is associated with the sun god. The literary representation here is of Shelley?s

Darr5

famous sonnet ?Ozyman-dias,? which described a monument that was in the shape of a male Sphinx (Donoghue and Mulryne 68). This is evidence clearly shows how other philosophical writers influenced Yeats?s work.

Another example of this takes place in the third and final part of this poem. These last few lines are extremely confusing but very powerful. Yeats goes on to say:

?The darkness drops again; but now I know

Those twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches twards Bethlehem to be born??(2.17-21).

The ?stony sleep? of the Sphinx associates him with the ?stony sleep? of Blake?s Urizen in The Book of Urizen. According to Donoghue and Mulryne, those twenty ?Christian? centuries can be taken as the outside term in this metaphor; they represent nature, the fallen object-world. The ?rocking cradle? is the inside term, standing for the subjective unconsciousness that is aware of the Incarnation (24). Yeats’s vision in the end seems to be that the Christian age is over and the Gnostic?s are waiting at Bethlehem for the Second Birth of the Sphinx.

Summarizing the experience of ?The Second Coming? reveals a successful representation of other philosophical writers such as Shelley, and Blake. It portrays many of the characteristics of the Gnostic religion. The poem demonstrates how Yeats is waiting for his Sphinx to come again in ?The Second Coming?. Lastly, Yeats uses imagery and the influences of the Irish wars to depict the chaos and intensity throughout the poem. It is with theses influences that Yeats is able to express the many meaning of ?The Second Coming?.

Darr1

Christin Darr

Dr. Arthur Edward Salmon

Eng.II 9:45a.m.

25 May 2000

The Spirit of William Butler Yeats and ?The Second Coming?

?Surely the Second coming is at hand;?

when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight:? A shape with a lion

body and the head of a man, / A gaze blank

And pitiless as the sun,?(2.9-15).

Is the world actually coming to an end? Is this sphinx-like creature truly our inevitable savior? Or, is Yeats? life and things surrounding it coming to chaos? Is the war and restless spirit of Ireland influencing Yeats? work? On the other hand, is Yeats trying to help one to understand the frustrations of their own lives on a more personal level? The depth of Yeats?s work, among many other great poets, is immeasurable. Many surrounding emotions, and intentions may go into this poem, along with various other subsidies the poet may not even be aware of. This is precisely why the literature department, or lack of, in many schools is weakening. Too many teachers, professors, and now students focus either solely on rhyme and meter or the ?obvious? reason a poet might compose a poem, such as personal relationships, failures, earthly surroundings, or mental distress.

The educators of students today need to be more open-minded on the interpretations one has for a particular poem. Literature has been a very strong

Darr2

foundation for any prosperous civilization. For centuries poets will be immortalized in classes and books. However, as their words are remembered their spirit has been lost. When analyzing a great poet?s work such as Yeats, the most obvious interpretation is usually not the correct one. Literature helps open minds to endless possibilities in every possible aspect. If students are taught to just accept explanations and are discouraged from questioning or even thinking for themselves, then the world will soon become full of conformed, mindless robots. Future leaders of the world must be taught to analyze everything. They must be taught to use their imaginations and logical thinking together. That is a most powerful combination in the hands of a determined student. The process must be in the root of this thinking. It must begin with literature. Throughout Yeats? life he has produced numerous controversial poems. Many people hold their own, very strong, opinions about poems. The truth is, there is not only one.

Yeats had many different influences when writing ?The Second Coming?, and it is important for the reader to know each of them before they can even begin to understand the many meanings and interpretations of this poem. Yeats?s poetry has three major influences. The more obvious one is the fact that Yeats was from Ireland, and at the time that this poem was written, World War II was affecting Ireland. However, WWII was not something knew to the Ireland?s culture because for the past 300 years Ireland had been involved in many other wars and at the same time trying to gain their independence. Another influence on Yeats?s writing was his personal religion, Gnosticism. According to Harold Bloom, Yeats believed Christianity to be ?the barbarian theosophy,? and declined to distinguish it form Gnosticism (1). Gnosticism

Darr3

has to do with searching for self-knowledge and rejecting the society of their time. This seems to have been quite appropriate for Yeats and his writing. The third influence on Yeats?s writing was the work of other philosophical writers such as Shelley, Blake, and Nietzsche. Yeats used some of the imagery and context of their previous works to help describe the meaning of ?The Second Coming.?

When reading ?The Second Coming? one?s first impression might be of someone who felt as though they had no control of their life and therefore life was about to come to an end. That interpretation was not well thought out and very narrow-minded. The meaning is much more complex than that.

?The Second Coming? is a very powerful piece of poetry, and one of the most universal admired poems of the 20th century. Attempting to understand William Butler Yeats?s work is almost impossible unless you let one to become completely open-minded on every aspect of the poem. There are many different theories as to what the true meaning of ?The Second Coming? really is. The fact of the matter is that Yeats

purposefully has more than one interpretation of ?The Second Coming.? He wants the average person to open his or her creative mind and to analyze every influence, language, and imagery to understand the message he is trying to get across.

When reading the opening lines of ?The Second Coming? there are two meaning Yeats is trying to portray. In the opening figuration, the center is man, unable as the falconer to no longer maintain control over a ?turning and turning? movement. Man is going through constant chaos that is affecting all of society. It is described, as ?Things

Darr4

are falling apart; the center cannot hold;?(1.3). However, there is evidence also suggesting that the falconer is also the poet himself. The poet is loosing control of his

own creativity. He has a powerful and creative message to get across but struggles to put it on paper. This presentation, either way, is breaking down, or falling apart.

At the end of the first stanza Yeats describes and uses imagery when stating, ?The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned;? (1.5-6). This of course refers to the biblical story of Noah and the great flood. Yeats is painting a picture of an ocean of blood, which symbolizes the ?last wave?, or the end of the world.

In the beginning of the second stanza words are crucial here, for Yeats ?surely? is showing us how insure he is, the repetition of ?surely? betraying his uncertainty. When Yeats repeated the words ?the Second Coming? he is either referring to the Christian Second Coming of Christ or the Gnostic Second Birth of their Demigod. Either interpretation is a great change and uncertainty. Next Yeats describes the spirit of the world or ?Spiritus Mundi.? This image is identical with ?Anima Mundi,? the second part of Per Amica Silentia Lunae, written also by Yeats just two years before (Cowell 15).

In the second half of the last stanza Yeats states:

?somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and 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 birds? (2.5-9).

Yeats is describing a male Sphinx, Egyptian rather than Greek; also there is evidence that the Sphinx is associated with the sun god. The literary representation here is of Shelley?s

Darr5

famous sonnet ?Ozyman-dias,? which described a monument that was in the shape of a male Sphinx (Donoghue and Mulryne 68). This is evidence clearly shows how other philosophical writers influenced Yeats?s work.

Another example of this takes place in the third and final part of this poem. These last few lines are extremely confusing but very powerful. Yeats goes on to say:

?The darkness drops again; but now I know

Those twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches twards Bethlehem to be born??(2.17-21).

The ?stony sleep? of the Sphinx associates him with the ?stony sleep? of Blake?s Urizen in The Book of Urizen. According to Donoghue and Mulryne, those twenty ?Christian? centuries can be taken as the outside term in this metaphor; they represent nature, the fallen object-world. The ?rocking cradle? is the inside term, standing for the subjective unconsciousness that is aware of the Incarnation (24). Yeats’s vision in the end seems to be that the Christian age is over and the Gnostic?s are waiting at Bethlehem for the Second Birth of the Sphinx.

Summarizing the experience of ?The Second Coming? reveals a successful representation of other philosophical writers such as Shelley, and Blake. It portrays many of the characteristics of the Gnostic religion. The poem demonstrates how Yeats is waiting for his Sphinx to come again in ?The Second Coming?. Lastly, Yeats uses imagery and the influences of the Irish wars to depict the chaos and intensity throughout the poem. It is with theses influences that Yeats is able to express the many meaning of ?The Second Coming?.

Darr1

Christin Darr

Dr. Arthur Edward Salmon

Eng.II 9:45a.m.

25 May 2000

The Spirit of William Butler Yeats and ?The Second Coming?

?Surely the Second coming is at hand;?

when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight:? A shape with a lion

body and the head of a man, / A gaze blank

And pitiless as the sun,?(2.9-15).

Is the world actually coming to an end? Is this sphinx-like creature truly our inevitable savior? Or, is Yeats? life and things surrounding it coming to chaos? Is the war and restless spirit of Ireland influencing Yeats? work? On the other hand, is Yeats trying to help one to understand the frustrations of their own lives on a more personal level? The depth of Yeats?s work, among many other great poets, is immeasurable. Many surrounding emotions, and intentions may go into this poem, along with various other subsidies the poet may not even be aware of. This is precisely why the literature department, or lack of, in many schools is weakening. Too many teachers, professors, and now students focus either solely on rhyme and meter or the ?obvious? reason a poet might compose a poem, such as personal relationships, failures, earthly surroundings, or mental distress.

The educators of students today need to be more open-minded on the interpretations one has for a particular poem. Literature has been a very strong

Darr2

foundation for any prosperous civilization. For centuries poets will be immortalized in classes and books. However, as their words are remembered their spirit has been lost. When analyzing a great poet?s work such as Yeats, the most obvious interpretation is usually not the correct one. Literature helps open minds to endless possibilities in every possible aspect. If students are taught to just accept explanations and are discouraged from questioning or even thinking for themselves, then the world will soon become full of conformed, mindless robots. Future leaders of the world must be taught to analyze everything. They must be taught to use their imaginations and logical thinking together. That is a most powerful combination in the hands of a determined student. The process must be in the root of this thinking. It must begin with literature. Throughout Yeats? life he has produced numerous controversial poems. Many people hold their own, very strong, opinions about poems. The truth is, there is not only one.

Yeats had many different influences when writing ?The Second Coming?, and it is important for the reader to know each of them before they can even begin to understand the many meanings and interpretations of this poem. Yeats?s poetry has three major influences. The more obvious one is the fact that Yeats was from Ireland, and at the time that this poem was written, World War II was affecting Ireland. However, WWII was not something knew to the Ireland?s culture because for the past 300 years Ireland had been involved in many other wars and at the same time trying to gain their independence. Another influence on Yeats?s writing was his personal religion, Gnosticism. According to Harold Bloom, Yeats believed Christianity to be ?the barbarian theosophy,? and declined to distinguish it form Gnosticism (1). Gnosticism

Darr3

has to do with searching for self-knowledge and rejecting the society of their time. This seems to have been quite appropriate for Yeats and his writing. The third influence on Yeats?s writing was the work of other philosophical writers such as Shelley, Blake, and Nietzsche. Yeats used some of the imagery and context of their previous works to help describe the meaning of ?The Second Coming.?

When reading ?The Second Coming? one?s first impression might be of someone who felt as though they had no control of their life and therefore life was about to come to an end. That interpretation was not well thought out and very narrow-minded. The meaning is much more complex than that.

?The Second Coming? is a very powerful piece of poetry, and one of the most universal admired poems of the 20th century. Attempting to understand William Butler Yeats?s work is almost impossible unless you let one to become completely open-minded on every aspect of the poem. There are many different theories as to what the true meaning of ?The Second Coming? really is. The fact of the matter is that Yeats

purposefully has more than one interpretation of ?The Second Coming.? He wants the average person to open his or her creative mind and to analyze every influence, language, and imagery to understand the message he is trying to get across.

When reading the opening lines of ?The Second Coming? there are two meaning Yeats is trying to portray. In the opening figuration, the center is man, unable as the falconer to no longer maintain control over a ?turning and turning? movement. Man is going through constant chaos that is affecting all of society. It is described, as ?Things

Darr4

are falling apart; the center cannot hold;?(1.3). However, there is evidence also suggesting that the falconer is also the poet himself. The poet is loosing control of his

own creativity. He has a powerful and creative message to get across but struggles to put it on paper. This presentation, either way, is breaking down, or falling apart.

At the end of the first stanza Yeats describes and uses imagery when stating, ?The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned;? (1.5-6). This of course refers to the biblical story of Noah and the great flood. Yeats is painting a picture of an ocean of blood, which symbolizes the ?last wave?, or the end of the world.

In the beginning of the second stanza words are crucial here, for Yeats ?surely? is showing us how insure he is, the repetition of ?surely? betraying his uncertainty. When Yeats repeated the words ?the Second Coming? he is either referring to the Christian Second Coming of Christ or the Gnostic Second Birth of their Demigod. Either interpretation is a great change and uncertainty. Next Yeats describes the spirit of the world or ?Spiritus Mundi.? This image is identical with ?Anima Mundi,? the second part of Per Amica Silentia Lunae, written also by Yeats just two years before (Cowell 15).

In the second half of the last stanza Yeats states:

?somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and 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 birds? (2.5-9).

Yeats is describing a male Sphinx, Egyptian rather than Greek; also there is evidence that the Sphinx is associated with the sun god. The literary representation here is of Shelley?s

Darr5

famous sonnet ?Ozyman-dias,? which described a monument that was in the shape of a male Sphinx (Donoghue and Mulryne 68). This is evidence clearly shows how other philosophical writers influenced Yeats?s work.

Another example of this takes place in the third and final part of this poem. These last few lines are extremely confusing but very powerful. Yeats goes on to say:

?The darkness drops again; but now I know

Those twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches twards Bethlehem to be born??(2.17-21).

The ?stony sleep? of the Sphinx associates him with the ?stony sleep? of Blake?s Urizen in The Book of Urizen. According to Donoghue and Mulryne, those twenty ?Christian? centuries can be taken as the outside term in this metaphor; they represent nature, the fallen object-world. The ?rocking cradle? is the inside term, standing for the subjective unconsciousness that is aware of the Incarnation (24). Yeats’s vision in the end seems to be that the Christian age is over and the Gnostic?s are waiting at Bethlehem for the Second Birth of the Sphinx.

Summarizing the experience of ?The Second Coming? reveals a successful representation of other philosophical writers such as Shelley, and Blake. It portrays many of the characteristics of the Gnostic religion. The poem demonstrates how Yeats is waiting for his Sphinx to come again in ?The Second Coming?. Lastly, Yeats uses imagery and the influences of the Irish wars to depict the chaos and intensity throughout the poem. It is with theses influences that Yeats is able to express the many meaning of ?The Second Coming?.

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