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UK Essay:How Does Yeats’ Poem The Second Coming Reflect the

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How Does Yeats’ Poem The Second Coming Reflect the Concerns and Anxieties of the Modernist Movement?

W.B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming has been seen as an exemplar of Modernist zeitgeist literature (Hone, 1962, Bradbury, Tratner, 1995, etc) at once depicting the de-centring and internal fissure of 英国论文网Twentieth Century culture and elegising the parting of a classical psychosocial period.[1] Both linguistically and thematically it represents the gradual erosion of one form of social order in favour of another:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The Flacon cannot hear the falconer.” (Yeats, 1978:210)

Here Yeats invokes the image of the mandala, the circular evolution of the social that finds echoes in Joyce[2], Eliot[3] and concepts such as Nietzsche’s “eternal return”. In language that, in itself repeats and returns, the poet interweaves images of centrifugal rupture suggesting that the failure in the contemporary system is contained in, not so much the large structures (of thought, of language, of ethics etc) but the psychosocial cohesion that binds them together:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Yeats, 1978:211)

This is a point bourn out in Harold Bloom’s study:

“Yeats's poem then is about the second birth of Urizen or the Egyptian Sphinx, but in a context of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence” (Bloom, 1972:319)

As Bloom goes on to say, in its prophetic and visionary overtones, The Second Coming reflects not only Blake, through its redefinition of biblical and Christian tropes and symbols but also Shelley, through its’ affirmation of the poetic experience and its place in psychosocial change. For Shelly as for Yeats, the poet has a vital role to play in tracing the social environment and highlighting its incongruities.[4]

At it heart, I think, Yeats’ poem concerns itself with a similar poetic theme to Eliot’s The Waste Land, that Hugh Kenner refers in to in The Invisible Poet: T.S. Eliot, as “the death of Europe” (Kenner, 1965: 123). Both Eliot and Yeats, prompted by the Russian Revolution perhaps, or the violence and horror of the First World War, pictured a Europe that was failing, that was literally falling apart, devoid of the ontological sense of rational purpose that fuelled post-Enlightenment Europe and America. (Bradbury, 1991, Cantor, 1988, Shaffer, 1993)

In many ways, Modernism, as a literary movement saw, in itself, the notions of the de-centred discourse that has formed so much a part of post-modernism ever since (Norris, 1982, Norris, 1992, Foucault, 1992). Poems like The Waste Land and The Second Coming trace, I think, the dissolution of the “grand narratives” (Lyotard, 1999) of society, that were instigated by the thinkers of the Enlightenment like Descartes and Locke and later Kant and Marx.



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