The Second Coming

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: a waste of desert sand;
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
Wind 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?

William Butler Yeats' most famous poem. It is NOT about the Apocalypse and the second coming of Christ— rather, it's a window in Yeats's own cosmology and worldview, predicting the fall of the Christian world order and the rising of a new empire. It was written just after World War One, the failed Irish Rising (in which Yeats lost several close friends), and the Russian Revolution, which probably explains a lot. Incidentally, it's considered one of Yeats' best works and is referenced endlessly in all forms of pop culture.

Widely considered one of the most definitive examples of Modernist poetry.

To some extent the singular popularity of this poem is a case Germans Love David Hasselhoff; in Ireland itself it is not generally considered more notable than any of Yeats' other poems. Tellingly, the centerpiece of the National Library of Ireland W.B. Yeats exhibit goes with the locally better known 'Lake Isle of Inishfree' instead.

Not to be confused with The Second Coming.

Alluded to by:

  • American Gods: The New Gods tend to speak in cliches, so it's not surprising that one of them had the whole damn poem memorized.
  • Andromeda's first season finale is called "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last".
    • Season 2 gives us The Widening Gyre and Pitiless as the Sun.
  • Angel: An episode entitled "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" forebodes the arrival of a demon known as The Beast.
  • Batman
    • Specifically, a miniseries titled The Widening Gyre.
  • Heroes: One episode replaced the standard episode-ending Mohinder Fauxlosophic Narration with him reciting the poem in whole, which was a vast improvement.
  • Sailor Moon: Act 39 of the Dream arc sees Hotaru reciting lines of Yeats' poem shortly before and during her own reawakening as the senshi of destruction, complete with spontaneous aging.
  • The Sopranos
  • Quoted by Starkey, a government employee in Stephen King's The Stand, after a human-made virus, which will certainly destroy civilization escapes. "The beast is on its way. Itís on its way, and itís a good deal rougher than that fellow Yeets ever could have imagined. Things are falling apart. The job is to hold as much as we can for as long as we can."
  • U2
  • Beast quotes it in X-Factor #70. Colossus thinks it's from Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov ("it sounded Russian").
  • A Robert B Parker novel about political corruption is entitled The Widening Gyre.
  • Chinua Achebe's best known work is called Things Fall Apart.
  • One of Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 novels is called The Center Cannot Hold.
  • G'Kar quotes the poem in Babylon 5, equating the escalating prelude to the Shadow War to things falling apart.
  • Parodied by eccentric bum Bert Nix in The Big U by Neal Stephenson.
  • Recited by the poet Martin Silenus in Hyperion. He doesn't take it too seriously.
  • One of the "oddball" monsters in the New World of Darkness book Antagonists was explicitly named in story after the "rough beast of Bethlehem." Given how it's a physical avatar of evil that has seeped into the ground after a Moral Event Horizon happened there and is a nigh-unkillable Hell Hound, the metaphor seems appropriate.
  • Sons of Anarchy: Two episodes in season 3 are titled "Turning and Turning" and "The Widening Gyre." Appropriately, given the political context in which the poem was written, this season heavily featured the True IRA and almost every episode was set at least partially in Belfast.
  • The title of Slouching Towards Bedlam is a pun on the last line; Bedlam House was the nickname of the Bethlehem Royal Hospital, where the game is set.
  • The last line of Good Omens describes the Anti Anti Christ as "slouching hopefully towards Tadfield".
  • Woody Allen titled one of his books Mere Anarchy.
  • Joan Didion titled one of her books Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
  • V for Vendetta naturally contains references to the poem.
  • Black Metal band Anaal Nathrakh have a song entitled "The Blood-Dimmed Tide" which appears on their 2012 album Vanitas.
  • Also entitled The Blood-Dimmed Tide is the second novel in Rennie Airth's John Madden mystery series.
  • Yet another work with a similar title is Gerald Astor's history book, A Blood-Dimmed Tide: The Battle of the Bulge by the Men Who Fought It.
  • Kevin Smith wrote a Batman series entitled The Widening Gyre.
  • A deleted scene from Nixon has CIA Director Richard Helms quote the first stanza and final lines to Nixon during a heated passive-aggressive standoff in the former's office, after musing about death.
  • Harry Dresden alludes to the poem during his Badass Boast at the end of Storm Front. "The world is getting weirder. Darker every single day. Things are spinning around faster and faster, and threatening to go completely awry. Falcons and falconers. The center cannot hold..."
  • In Margaret Weis's The Star of the Guardians, "The center cannot hold" is the activation code for a doomsday device called a "space-rotation bomb," which is appropriate for something that creates a Negative Space Wedgie.
  • Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom has Admiral Tolwyn (Malcolm Mc Dowell) and Senator Taggart (John Rhys-Davies) quoting the poem back and forth at the beginning of the second act.
  • Lou Reed opens his 1978 live album Take No Prisoners with this:
    I wanna read a quote from Yates. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity" - now you figure out where I'm at!