The Second Coming: Through the

To many, William Butler Yeats is the single greatest poet of the twentieth century.His relevance is only enhanced by his classic works like Leda and the Swan, Ephemera, and The Second Coming.His writing exemplifies several ideals of various literary theory, in particular Longinus' concept of the sublime.Yeats' use of mystery and strangeness, his contemplation of images, and his profound command of literary technique and form in The Second Coming all fulfill ideal qualities of a sublime work.
The Second Coming is by all accounts a strange and mysterious work.Its foreboding tone and almost prophetic voice lend heavily to this conclusion.The leading cause of this tone is, perhaps, the author's ambiguity.The work is full of Christian imagery yet it also deals with the occult.This is better understood when one takes into account Yeats' own personal philosophies.Yeats' was not a Catholic.He was a Spiritualist and his views centered around his own personal concepts of Theosophy.These concepts are central to the reader understanding the poem.While it is often cryptic in nature, simple explanations can be found when one understands Yeats' beliefs. At the end of the second stanza Yeats refers to "twenty centuries."
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
These lines are atfirst glance ambiguous but after reading Yeats' A Vision one can understand what he meant.Yeats believed that about every two thousand years the trend of history reversed itself and a new age began.Thus, as his age had begun with the advent of Christianity, now a new age was to begin. Furthermore, his reference to the sphinx is partly an allusion to time before Jesus.He asserts that that time period was "vexed to nightmare by rocking cradle."The birth of Christ ended an era and marked the adven…