“The Second Coming: A Private or Public Opinion?”

I attempted to connect “The Second Coming” to this week’s theme, Hermeticism. In response to this week’s theme, I had difficulty understanding the how it related to the religions tradition described as Hermeticism. I do see, however, that Yeats’ private thoughts were expressed with a public voice. The poem is written in a very dismal, almost angry tone. I wondered what prompted Yeats to write the poem, as well as whether these thoughts were actually representative of a “public voice.” I thought it was interesting that Yeats chose to state his message—that the world will end at the hand of the anti-Christ because of the evils of mankind—through this deeply religious, image-rich poem.

 

After doing some research, Yeats wrote the poem after being fairly disenchanted with the world he was living in. Ireland, at the time, was in a state of disarray, and this irked Yeats greatly. He makes many references to what he believes has brought about the second coming (essentially, the world is ending). For example, he references WWI (“The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”).

 

The second coming would generally refer to Christ returning to earth, which might seem like a good thing. But, obviously as evidenced by Yeats’ imagery and tone, this coming is apocalyptic. He references some sort of creature: “A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs” which does not seem to depict an image of Christ.

Overcoming War’s Relevance to Religion?

Hermeticism? According to Google, it is a path to spiritual growth.

When I first read the two readings for this week, I did not understand how they related to the idea of spiritual growth. In W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” the idea that everything is being destroyed is prevalent and that the only thing to look forward to is the second coming. Similarly, in Hilda Doolittle’s “The Walls Do Not Fall,” Doolittle uses words like “ruins,” “desolation,” “gloom,” and “fallen.” Throughout the entire poem she describes the terrible conditions that people were in and then ends with how they pulled through and the “frame held.” Both poems depict how even if things were once tremblingly difficult, there is always a light to look forward to and everything will work out. I felt that both poems had more of war feels to them, and when I was reading over my peers’ blog posts, I learned that both poems were written during times of war. This made sense; however, I do not understand where hermeticism (this unit’s title/topic) comes in to place. I understand that there is growth in the sense that difficult times were amended and peace and change were established, but I do not see any links to anything spiritual. There are some religious references in “The Second Coming,” but I did not feel that they were essential to understanding the idea of a second coming. In from “The Walls Do Not Fall,” there are some religious references; however, just like Yeats’ poem, they are not prevalent to understand the idea of getting out of a time of war and hardship.

Down the rabbit hole into Pompeii

When I started reading this poem, the beginning made it seem like I was reading an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland. The “here” and “there” reminded me of Alice’s indecisiveness throughout the novel. That made me stop and think the poem would be a lively and innocent one. That idea changed when events such as Pompeii were mentioned, and I came under the impression that the poet was going from happy to sad. When I read it through the second time, I began to focus more on words like “unalterable purpose,” “ruins,” and “eternity endures.” These words were used in what I considered to be the “happy” portion of the poem, and I realized that even with the use of words such as “here” and “there,” a much more darker meaning existed.

Another section of the poem that caught my attention was when Pompeii was mentioned. Pompeii was one of my most favorite events discussed in grade school. It was a very upsetting moment in history, but I always enjoyed the story behind it. When reading that part, I realized that I really did not understand what the poem was trying to convey to me. My greatest guess is that even with happiness, there is darkness, but I am not certain.

I think the reason I am confused about this poem is because there is a lot of stuff going on, and I really do not know how to put it all together. I believe the best thing to better understand this poem would be to know why the poet wrote this. More information about her reason for writing this would be very helpful.

Historical Context and Biblical References in The Second Coming

I found that W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” was difficult to understand because of the historical context, which could potentially lead to a deeper understanding of the poem.  I am not particularly interested in history, so even though I know big events that occurred such as some wars, I could be missing something.

I felt like Yeats was trying to use this poem to warn the reader of “The Second Coming” based on something that had already happened.  After looking up when the poem was published (in 1920), I realized that his inspiration could have been from World War I which occurred from 1914 – 1918.  If this was the case, it is rather terrifying to me that he was able to predict what happened with Hitler and the rise of fascism.  The poem almost seemed like a prophecy warning people to prepare for what was to come.

I also struggled with deciding whether biblical references were made in the poem.  “The Second Coming” (the title) and “Bethlehem” (mentioned in the final line of the poem) both struck me as biblical references.  I don’t know much about the Bible at all, and I had to do a little bit of research.  I learned that The Second Coming refers to the reappearance of Christ as prophesied in the Book of Revelation.  In that case, I can kind of see parallels in the poem.  The Book of Revelation would be the poem in this case predicting what will happen in the future, but I’m not sure how the reappearance of Christ would fit into this poem.

I think the best way to work through this difficulty would be to research a lot or discuss the poem with someone who does have more knowledge of the history and the bible.

The Top Ten Percent

Have you ever noticed that the top ten percent of people who like a certain thing always suck? Take Justin Bieber, for example (and let me finish before you cringe and judge me) — everyone thinks his fans are absolute nut-jobs. Not just because they like Justin Bieber and it’s a value judgment, but because they act like they’re batshit crazy (pardon my French) and scream and yell and stampede and carve his name into their skin (yes, really). Admittedly, I was among that “everyone.” However, over time I’ve realized that not every person who enjoys listening to Justin Bieber’s music is a crazy person. Take my sister, for example. She loves listening to Justin Bieber, but she’s completely normal and composed and does not want to bear his children. I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this, and I’ll tell you. In William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” he has two lines that describe this exact phenomenon: /The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity./ While I may be substituting “best” for “average,” the sentiment still rings true. The people who are the worst are always the one with the most passionate intensity, which ruins things for the rest of the group who gets lumped in with them. It’s always the most vocal people (who are always that top ten percent) who give the entire group a bad reputation.

So while that was a nice rant, it didn’t actually get to the meat of the poem, other than that one line. That’s because the poem was incredibly confusing to me. Other than that one line that jumped out at me because I immediately understood it and felt it resonate, the poem as a whole is tricky. One of the things that bothered me (which is probably just me being a nit-picky creative writing student) was the repetition of words. He uses “loosed” twice in two following lines, as well as “The Second Coming.” Normally repetition becomes critical to the poem, but here it honestly just seemed like lazy repetition. There wasn’t enough of it for it to be a recurring theme, but there was also too much of it for it to just be random. I guess I haven’t entirely figured that one out yet.

The other thing in this poem that I’d like to note is that half of it describes something intangible, while the other half gives something very tangible. While a Sphinx might be a mythical creature, the description of him (generally a her, another confusing and probably intentional thing Yeats does, that I have no idea how to analyze) is incredibly vivid, walking slowly underneath a flock of birds. For me, having one part be so tangible and the other so elusive made the poem much harder to understand. Should I be focusing on the image I can see in my mind’s eye, or the cryptic description that I need to parse out? If someone wants to let me know, that’d be great. Thanks.

Second thoughts on the second coming

The starting image of “The Second Coming” by WB Yeats is very striking. It is also very depressing and does not offer a lot of hope. The act of falling out of the sky is a very scary one and reminded me of the time I went bungee jumping. There is zero control and honestly not much one can do except trust the cord will tighten in the case of bungee jumping. The dark tones also made me envision an abyss at the bottom of the ocean where there are creatures we do not know much about. This lack of clear knowledge of this space is similar to the Second Coming of Christ, which I personally do not know much about what is expected or what people believe it to be. The dark tone I got from this poem was not very clear to me because there is not a single event I can pinpoint the sad, dark tones to. I assumed the title referred to the second coming of Christ, which tends to make me think of happier and lighter thoughts since he is usually viewed as the Savior. This poem was very mystical and mysterious all at once. Private Visions and Public Voices being the title of this week’s themes makes me wonder if WB Yeats is publically voicing visions he may have had of the second coming in his own private thoughts but I am not sure. This makes me second guess what I had previously thought about the second coming and it being a moment of salvation for followers of Christ and it also reminds me of a Lutheran school teacher I had in 8th grade telling me that non-Christians will not enjoy the Second Coming.

Imagery of “The Walls Do Not Fall”

This week, I found the excerpt from “The Walls Do Not Fall” by Hilda Doolittle to be pretty interesting and confusing. At first, I examined the form of the piece, noticing that each section or stanza consists of 3 lines, following no apparent meter pattern. Although on the surface, the poem looks like it is composed of a series of many Haikus, the punctuation throughout the piece was peculiar. The first letter of the first word in Line 1 was capitalized, and then for the rest of the piece, except for proper nouns I presume, was uncapitalized. Additionally, from the first to last stanza, it seems as if this selection is supposed to be one very long sentence. There are no periods until the very end of this selection; instead, there are tons of colons, commas, and semicolons. This leads me to wonder if the author wanted to create a continuous image, why would the author chose to split up the piece into stanzas?

I had a sense of things being scattered as a read the poem, adding to the feeling of confusion as a read this piece. The words “here” and there” consistently paired together suggests that things are scattered everywhere, or there’s an indecisiveness as to where that things is really located. The following lines exhibit these qualities: An incident here and there (Line 1)/There, as here, ruin opens (Line 10)/There as here, there are no doors (Line 12)/ Ruin everywhere (Line 16). Besides those lines, there are a lot of descriptions for imagery, however they are overall vague and scattered. Therefore,  me as the reader had a hard time to grasp the real sense of what is going on.

Yeats’ Apocalyptic Vision

W.B. Yeats presents chilling images that foreshadow the beginning of the end of humanity in The Second Coming. The poem is organized into two stanzas with the first one setting the scene by offering a tone of suspense (“Things fall apart,” “Mere anarchy,” “The blood-dimmed tide”) and the second one appearing to pose a response to the issue (“Surely the Second Coming is at hand”). With very limited knowledge of the Bible and the Second Coming, I found myself baffled by Yeats’ choice of images, such as the purpose of the sphinx and its significance in relation to the Bible. Yeats personifies the creature which has “a gaze blank and pitiless” and “is moving its slow thighs.” These images suggest uncertainty and lethargy, as if the beast has just woken up. Perhaps its purpose in the poem is to represent the awakening of a historical moment as represented by the sphinx and bringing of disturbance to the world as shown through the sphinx’s emotionless and callous gaze.

Furthermore, the end of the poem suggests that the “rough beast” or the sphinx is actually the Second Coming, whose “hour come round at last.” Yeats seems to have thrown us a curveball in the last few lines of the poem, because the images leading up to the end implies the return of Christ during the Second Coming, but instead the sphinx, which represents turbulence and evil becomes the central figure. I guess the purpose of this difference is to illustrate the destruction of civilization and humankind, but why does Yeats end the poem with a question mark? Maybe he’s predicting the future and offering a mere suggestion to the outlook of humanity?

Why So Gloomy?!

Of the poems we read for Monday’s class, “The Second Coming” stood out the most to me. The poem has a very ominous and depressing feel to it, which is not a characteristic I normally gravitate towards. Yeats wrote this poem in January of 1919 – very close to the end of the First World War. I think that the bleak feel to this piece of work could be related to the time period in which it was written. Yeats writes about the present world were “things fall apart” and there is destruction all around.

The second coming is the future or a change that is going to come. I had difficulty understanding what this change was going to be. From reading the poem I understood that it was saying this change is going to be abrupt and happen quickly. Line 11 is what led me to believe this because Yeats (or society as a whole) will hardly be able to say the words “The Second Coming!” as it is happening. This made me think a lot about my book of poetry by Jericho Brown and what I have learned from reading about Brown and the New Testament, both biblical and poetical. As part of my research of the New Testament I learned more about the Book of Revelation. This depicts the coming of the Kingdom of God and makes it clear that this change will happen very suddenly as opposed to gradually. I’m not sure if Yeats is referencing or alluding to the New Testament and how the change in 20th century society will be sudden just as it was in biblical times, but it seemed like a fitting connection for me to make.

Being able to use what I’ve learned from The New Testament by Jericho Brown to help further understand Yeats’ poem was really exciting and helped me connect further with the poem.

Reflections on “The Walls Do Not Fall”

H.D.’s segment from “The Walls Do Not Fall” was the most striking piece for me this week. This poem was enhanced by my understanding of the time period it was published in – 1944. This year was right before WWII ended. H.D. was an American, and lived through both World Wars, as well as the Great Depression. I think her existence in these three pivotal, and very dark times, in American history is displayed in her writing. My favorite line in her poem is the last one, where she asks “what saved us? what for?” H.D. references past great civilizations who were left in ruins; but us, our flawed and warring modern civilization? We “passed the flame”. But why us?

H.D.’s sense of rhyme was striking. I couldn’t identify a consistent rhyme scheme – but her work has a sing-song quality. However, something about that “song” feels off – much like H.D.’s understanding of the present, the rhyme scheme has a sense of moving, but going nowhere – there’s no satisfying end rhyme to finish or a structured form to follow.

Some of her phrases stuck out to me as well: “there as here”, “we know not nor are known”, “no such shock knit within terror”, etc. These statements made me think of Gertrude Stein due to their sound-reliant and slightly convoluted, “tongue-twister” quality. I wonder if H.D. incorporated these elements to add a similar senselessness that Stein’s work exhibited and to tie that senselessness to this poem’s theme.

I saw similarities between this poem and Yeats’ “The Second Coming”, but H.D.’s work felt more approachable and less theoretical. There was a sense of reality in H.D.’s poem that I think Yeats’ lacked. Perhaps I felt this way because I could not tie Yeats’ imagery to real pictures, while I could clearly envision H.D.’s images of “sliced-walls” in London or lava-covered bodies in Pompeii.

1 2