THE SECOND COMING

By: William Butler Yeats
October 25, 2022

William Butler Yeats, 1911

A (pro- or anti-) science-, mathematics-, technology-, space-, apocalypse-, dehumanization-, disenchantment-, and/or future-oriented poem published during sf’s emergent Radium Age (c. 1900–1935).

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and
     everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those
     words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of
     the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of
     a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking
     cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come
     round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (w. circa 1918-1919; p. November 1920 in The Dial) is a dark vision of the fate of the world in the aftermath of WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic, the unspoken but manifest double catastrophe — a “jackpot,” as William Gibson might put it — that awakens the “rough beast.”

***

RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF POETRY: H.D.’s STARS WHEEL IN PURPLE | Clark Ashton Smith’s FROM PLANET UNTO PLANET WHIRLED | Anonymous’s ASTRONOMIC JOSH | Rudyard Kipling’s THE SECRET OF THE MACHINES | Randolph Bourne’s SABOTAGE | Stephen Spender’s THE PYLONS | Ford Madox Ford’s GREY MATTER | W.E. Henley’s A SONG OF SPEED | H.L. Mencken’s A BALLAD OF LOOKING | George Sterling’s THE TESTIMONY OF THE SUNS | Vachel Lindsay’s THE SCIENTIFIC ASPIRATION | Thomas Hardy’s EPITAPH FOR G.K. CHESTERTON | Archibald MacLeish’s EINSTEIN | Thomas Thornely’s THE ATOM | Charles M. Doughty’s THE CLIFFS | William Butler Yeats’s THE SECOND COMING | Guillaume Apollinaire’s THE LITTLE CAR | Archibald MacLeish’s MAN! | Max Beerbohm’s A SEQUELULA TO “THE DYNASTS” | C.S. Lewis’s DYMER | Stephen Vincent Benét’s METROPOLITAN NIGHTMARE | Michael Roberts’s NOTE ON Θ, Φ, and Ψ | D.H. Lawrence’s FUTURE WAR | Laurence Binyon’s NUMBERS | Frederik Pohl’s ELEGY TO A DEAD PLANET: LUNA | F.V. Branford’s FAREWELL TO MATHEMATICS | D.H. Lawrence’s THE EVENING LAND | Carl Sandburg’s MANUAL SYSTEM | Robert Frost’s FIRE AND ICE | D.H. Lawrence’s THE REVOLUTIONARY | Blaise Cendrar’s ORION | Aldous Huxley’s FIFTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG | Charles Buxton Going’s THE SONG OF STEEL | D.H. Lawrence’s UNDERNEATH | Sara Teasdale’s “THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS” | Edith Södergran’s ON FOOT I HAD TO… | Louis Untermeyer’s PORTRAIT OF A MACHINE | D.H. Lawrence’s BOMBARDMENT | Robert Graves’s WELSH INCIDENT | D.H. Lawrence’s TO LET GO OR TO HOLD ON —? | Nancy Cunard’s ZEPPELINS | W.J. Turner’s MISS AMERICA | Julian Huxley’s TO A DANCER | W.B. Yeats’s SAILING TO BYZANTIUM | John Collings Squire’s THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST | D.H. Lawrence’s WELLSIAN FUTURES | Julian Huxley’s COSMIC DEATH | Robinson Jeffers’s SCIENCE | D.H. Lawrence’s SUBURBS ON A HAZY DAY | A.S. Eddington’s ONE THING IS CERTAIN | Rudyard Kipling’s THE TRADE | Emil Raymond’s TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR | D.H. Lawrence’s THE TRIUMPH OF THE MACHINE | Marianne Moore’s IN THE DAYS OF PRISMATIC COLOR | Vachel Lindsay’s EUCLID | D.H. Lawrence’s GIVE US GODS | Alfred Noyes’s WATCHERS OF THE SKY | Edna St. Vincent Millay’s EUCLID ALONE | W.J. Turner’s IN TIME LIKE GLASS | Emma Rounds’s PLANE GEOMETRY | Robert Grant’s THE SUPERMAN | D.H. Lawrence’s THE THIRD THING | Ralph Milne Farley’s THE END OF THE WORLD | Robinson Jeffers’s ROAN STALLION | A.S. Eddington’s INFINITY | Karel Čapek’s WHAT OUR AGE HAS DONE | D.H. Lawrence’s ROBOT POEMS | Mina Loy’s LUNAR BAEDEKER | John Lehmann’s THIS EXCELLENT MACHINE | Jean Toomer’s HER LIPS ARE COPPER WIRE | D.H. Lawrence’s RELATIVITY | Clark Ashton Smith’s AFTERWARDS | D.H. Lawrence’s SPACE | Ronald Ross’s THE ANNIVERSARY | Rudyard Kipling’s MACDONOUGH’S SONG | Robert Bridges’ THE TESTAMENT OF BEAUTY | Clark Ashton Smith’s THE STAR-TREADER | Archibald MacLeish’s EPISTLE TO BE LEFT TO THE EARTH | D.H. Lawrence’s LET US BE MEN | Michael Roberts’s MIDNIGHT | William Stanley Braithwaite’s DEL CASCAR | F.V. Branford’s THE MOON | A.S. Eddington’s “THERE ONCE WAS A BREATHY BABOON” | Michael Roberts’s PERSPECTIVE | Arthur Schnitzler’s LEINBACH’S PROOF | Michael Roberts’s ROCKS ARE IMMUTABLE | F.V. Branford’s MASTER CELLS | Clark Ashton Smith’s THE NEMESIS OF SUNS | D.H. Lawrence’s DARK SATANIC MILLS | William Empson’s LETTER I | Amy Lowell’s MIDDAY AND AFTERNOON | D.H. Lawrence’s THE GULF | Wallace Stevens’s FABLIAU OF FLORIDA | Kenneth Rexroth’s “HEAVEN IS FULL OF DEFINITE STARS…” | Leslie Pinckney Hill’s ARMAGEDDON | William Stanley Braithwaite’s DISTANCES | Lucian B. Watkins’s SAN FRANCISCO’S 18th OF APRIL (1906) | D.H. Lawrence’s HOLD BACK! | C. Day Lewis’s TRANSITIONAL POEM | Wallace Stevens’s THE IDEA OF A COLONY | D.H. Lawrence’s MEN LIKE GODS | Valery Bryusov’s THE DAYS SHALL COME OF FINAL DESOLATION | Amy Lowell’s A COMPARISON | D.H. Lawrence’s MEN AND MACHINES | Herbert Read’s MUTATIONS OF THE PHŒNIX | T.E. Hulme’s CINDERS | T.S. Eliot’s THE WASTE LAND | Hugh MacDiarmid’s STONY LIMITS | Herbert Read’s THE RETREAT | D.H. Lawrence’s SOULS TO SAVE | Laurence Binyon’s THE ZEPPELIN.

Categories

Poetry, Radium Age SF