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'The Second Coming': How It Fits Into W.B. Yeats' Career

By    |   Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 09:25 PM

William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," was written in 1919 and first published in 1920. It personified the poet’s larger vision of history based in a mystic view of the world. "The Second Coming" was written before Yeats won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923, and also before what most experts consider to be his best work.

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Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865. He was raised in County Sligo and London, but returned to his birthplace at age 15 to study painting — an attempt, evidently to follow in the footsteps of his father, who had been a well-known portrait painter. Yeats discovered his art was more inclined to the pen, and he took up poetry and playwriting. He promoted Irish heritage and often included references to Irish folklore and legend in his work.

Yeats published his first volume of poetry in 1887. He founded the Abbey Theatre during the same period of time in his life and wrote several plays. Most of them reflect his early fascination with mysticism and the occult.

While he loved Ireland, Yeats was critical of the Irish national movement. "The Second Coming" is a reflection of and reaction to the violent political upheavals he saw in his own country as well as throughout Europe at the time. The first World War had ended in 1918 after four years of bloody struggle. The war was so bad that many hoped it would be the end of war. At the time they called it The Great War.

Followed on the heels of The Great War came the Irish War of Independence, which was ongoing when Yeats penned "The Second Coming." The uprising against British rule did not see a truce until July of 1921. When Yeats writes of the world coming apart in this poem, it is a reflection of the chaos of these two events.

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In Yeats' poem, "The Second Coming," he reflects on the idea that things are near the unraveling end of a winding path of history. It is a philosophy he later more clearly outlines in his work "A Vision." Yeats' reference to "The Second Coming" was not so much about an Armageddon but rather a turning point in history.

Yeats won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923. "The Second Coming" was among the work considered for his prize, which was given, “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats may have thought history truly turned in his time. While the storm clouds of another conflict were on the horizon, he did not see the outbreak of World War II, dying in 1939 at the age of 73.

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William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," was written in 1919 and first published in 1920. It personified the poet's larger vision of history based on a mystic view of the world.
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2014-25-28
Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 09:25 PM
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