The Second Coming represents a vision of Christianity superseded. It enacts one of the perennial forms of trouble and here lies its supreme value. The theme of the poem is about a terrible prophecy about the birth of a new God, combining ironically Christ's prophecy about his second coming in the Gospel of St. Mathew and St. John's description of the beast of the Apocalypse in Revelation. The Second Coming is interpenetrated with symbols and images. The opening lines of the poem-
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer”
illustrate the symbolic meaning of Yeats's gyres. To represent his conception of time Yeats used the geometrical symbol of the gyre or cone. In the beginning of the poem, the poet gives us a picture of the disintegration which has overtaken the Christian civilisation.
The diminishing force of Christianity is conveyed to us through the idea that Christianity is like a falcon that has lost touch with the falconer, and has thus become directionless. The poet says that things are falling apart. The centre of things is unable to hold itself together.
As a result, complete anarchy is let loose upon the world and this anarchy is bringing with it a lot of bloodsheds. This tide of bloodshed has drowned the “ceremony of innocence”. The worst part of the whole situation is that the best people are not sure of themselves (lack all conviction) whereas the worst people are too sure of themselves and their intensity has an added passion about it.
The Second Coming is a good illustration of William Butler Yeats, theory of the rise and fall of civilisation as propounded in A vision. This poem is most remarkable for the expression of his notion that history consists of cycles and that every civilisation has a time span of its own.
According to history the present cycle of history which began roughly with the birth of Christ, is about to end and it is likely to be replaced by another cycle, the ruling authority which may be very terrifying and cruel: And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? Yeats believed that the process of history was a cyclic one. The Pagan civilisation broke down after a life of two thousand years; Christ came, and a new civilisation was born out of the ruins of the earlier one.
Similarly, the Christian civilisation has nearly run its course of two thousand years, and so, believes Yeats, a Second Coming of Christ is at hand. As soon as the thought flashes across the poet's mind, he sees the image of some vast form coming out of Spiritus Mundi, a kind of storehouse of images in Yeats's philosophy.
This huge figure has the body of a lion and the head of a man. It is similar to the Egyptian Sphinx. This beast has a pitiless, blank look. This beast is so monstrous, so nightmarish, that the birds fly before it in terror. During the two thousand years of the Christian civilisation, this beast has been sleeping but is now about to make its appearance in the world.
This will be the “Second Coming” and it will supersede Christ who was two thousand years ago at Bethlehem. The new period in human history will be one of monstrous animal power. The poet expresses his horror of a supernatural invasion through Christian imagery.
The Second Coming is not that which Christ prophesied about his second coming but the antitheses of all that has succeeded. The bird- symbol is one of the most important symbols in Yeats's poems. The desert birds which reel round the sphinx remind us of the pattern of the double interpenetrating gyres. The birds, which are witnesses of the terrible incarnation, treat it with both contempt and horror.
William Butler Yeats, humanises their reaction with the use of the word indignant. They may also have the ominous aspects of birds of prey. The image of the rough beast is associated with Yeats's system. It indicates the birth of a bestial anti- civilisation in the wake of the disintegration of two thousand years of Christian civilisation.
In a technical sense, The Second Coming is the most sublime poem. Each word and line contributes to the final effect. Each word is carefully chosen. The vowel and consonant sounds have been carefully manipulated.