Second Coming & Civilization and Its Discontents Essay

Pages: 7 (2105 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sociology  ·  Written: December 10, 2019


Description, Analysis, and Interpretation of William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming (1919)

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The Second Coming is a book that borrows its title from prophesized events in the Christian Bible. In the Bible, the first coming of Jesus Christ was his birth and it ended one historical dispensation and ushered in another. The second coming of Christ, according to the Bible, will mark the end of the World as we know it and the start of a new age. The Bible says that one will know the time is near when troubles and sorrows fill the earth. The new age will have Christ in power and the world will be at peace. This notion that the second coming of Christ will be a turning point for the World is found in the Book of Mathew 24 in the Bible and in several other Bible texts. William Yeats believed that civilization and the world were ending. He posited a theory of history that is somewhat similar to that posited by Spengler. The theory is that history of the world alternates between cycles of growth and decay. According to Yeats, each cycle is about 2,000 years long and the present one which commenced with the first coming of Christ is ending now.

Essay on Second Coming & Civilization and Its Discontents Assignment

Traditionally, Christian theologians and believers have considered the second coming of Jesus Christ as an event marking the end of one age and ushering a new age. The opening stanza of Yeats’s poem begins with a little story about a falconer who no longer has control of their hawk. They have lost control and communication and things become a little chaotic. This story is followed by Yeats’s description of a historical scenario where things have also fallen apart and there is barbarism and violence. Yeats is probably describing some of the experiences which he has seen firsthand including the Irish Civil War in his country, the Russian Revolution, and the First World War. The writing in the Book of Matthew describes some of the events that will indicate that the second coming of Christ is close as including great tribulations, wars, shorter days, and a situation where it will be difficult to save flesh. This is why Yeats reasons that all the moral collapse, the violence and the anarchy have to be signs that Christ is very nearly coming for a second time.

When talking about the second coming, the event automatically triggers a specific vision that comes from the “Spirit of the World.” According to Yeats, the “Spirit of the World” is a store of archetypal and primitive images e.g. the famous image of the Egyptian Sphinx. The image or vision that comes to mind when one mentioned the second coming of Christ would be expected to be the same as the vision detailed in the Book of Matthew including the tribulations and the coming down of Christ from the heavens in all his power and glory. One would also expect a vision of the new age being exactly as that which was detailed in the Bible with no more war and where love overcomes hate. However, Yeats' vision of a new age is not the same as that captured in the Bible. He argues that the event that will turn the history of the world will not be the actual second coming but will be the emergence of a new god who will be the successor to Jesus Christ (Spacey, 2019). Yeats argues in the poem that like Jesus, this new god will also emerge from the Middle East. But that unlike Jesus who is a combination of a human and a divine being, the new successor god will be the combination of a human and a monster. That the head will have human intelligence but the body will have the instincts, urges, and passions of a lion. In his vision, Yeats notes that the god will have slow-moving thighs and a blank gaze and that he will be the antithesis of love with no pity. Yeats also believes he will be radically democratic and morally very neutral.

The “blind” god will smile both at the starvation of children and at the gluttony of despots. Yeats argues that his vision is similar to that of the first coming of Christ which he said surprised the Greek and was not welcome by everybody. His interpretation of contemporary history leads him to conclude that the Christian era has been a nightmare. In the end, Yeats paints an image of the new god slouching towards Bethlehem to end one era and usher another (Brooker, 1986).

In Sigmund Freud’s essay, he described his lack of religious feeling. Although his good friends are religious, Freud himself is not. However, he believes that religion is important to how societies are functioning. Freud tries to understand the drives of societies and people in general rather than those of individuals including ego and superego. And he wonders how the societal level drives move people ahead.

Reflection and Future Learning

An important lesson was that both the essay and the poem have various similarities. In Freud’s essay, the superego comes from the psychic function that is a result of tensions between one’s ego and the rules and disciplinary settings of a society that the ego must interact with (Gray, 2019). This tension and struggle are akin to that which Yeats describes as the cycles and circles in his poem. For example, there is a part of the poem where the poet describes birds circling the sky. The tension and struggle are also seen now where technological changes have resulted in an increase in individuality and violence, both of which were themes in Sigmund Freud’s essay. Yeats' poem twists the Christian image of the second coming of Christ and implies that the world is going back to its pre-Christian state where there was no religious morality to act as a guideline or moral compass.

  1. Brooker, J. S. (1986). The Second Coming" and "The Waste Land": Capstones of the Western Civilization Course. College Literature, 13(3), 240-253.
  2. Doyle, R. (2019, July 6). Civilisation and its Discontents (1930) by Sigmund Freud, translated by David McLintock. Retrieved from The Irish Times:
  3. Gray, R. (2019). Freud and the Literary Imagination. Retrieved from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Second Coming & Civilization and Its Discontents.  (2019, December 10).  Retrieved June 21, 2021, from

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"Second Coming & Civilization and Its Discontents."  10 December 2019.  Web.  21 June 2021. <>.

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"Second Coming & Civilization and Its Discontents."  December 10, 2019.  Accessed June 21, 2021.