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'The Second Coming': 7 Religious Themes for Yeats

By    |   Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 09:29 PM

William Butler Yeats had a complicated religious belief system that combined his fascination with the occult and mysticism with his Christian and Celtic heritage. "The Second Coming" is one of his most pervasive works, which has seeped into popular culture, politics and the arts over and over again in the nearly 100 years since it was first penned. In this work, as in many of the poet’s pieces, Yeats used a familiar religious theme to convey the turmoil of his times.

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Among religious themes for Yeats evident in his poetry and in the prose work “A Vision” are:

1. Immortality: While immortality is seen as traditionally in the realm of religious experience, some experts point that Yeats worked towards immortality through the arts. He puzzled in at least one volume, "Ideas of Good and Evil."

"How can the arts overcome the slow dying of men's hearts that we call the progress, the world, and lay their hands upon men's heart-strings again, without becoming the garment of religion as in old times?"

2. The Second Coming:
One of Yeats' most popular works, "The Second Coming" uses Christian images to paint a violent picture that hearkens to images in Revelation. The end of times is more a reference to the political issues going on in the poet’s world rather than any actual Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

3. Prayer: For a poet who was said to have rejected traditional forms of religion and Christianity, Yeats seemed to do plenty of praying. Among his popular poems are “A Prayer for My Daughter;” “A Prayer for my Son,” and “A Prayer for Old Age.”

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4. The Spirituality of Humanity: Yeats holds a complicated view of the human spirit and its path, which comes through in his work. In “A Vision,” he outlines four elements working in the human spirit called The Four Principles. These Principles are the divinity in man, reason, instinct, and passion. According to some scholars, this idea shows a relationship to Indian philosophy and theosophy.

5. Astrology: Yeats and his wife were believers in astrology and the idea of “return” in which a spirit tries to understand its past life in this life.

6. The Gyres: For Yeats, the Gyres are a fundamental religious symbol. They are perhaps, most well-known from the first line of the poem "The Second Coming," “Turning and turning in the widening gyre.” They refer to Yeats view of history as a series of cycles. The cycles spiral outward from a point and back in again. In Yeats case, the beginning point is the birth of Christ and the widening point where history is turning is his own times.

7. The Quest for Truth: Yeats saw this as a fundamental experience. He wrote about truth discovered under many circumstances, through the experience of passion, old age, political ideals, and reason.

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William Butler Yeats had a complicated religious belief system that combined his fascination with the occult and mysticism with his Christian and Celtic heritage. "The Second Coming" is one of his most pervasive works.
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2014-29-28
Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 09:29 PM
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