The Second Coming By William Butler Yeats Essay

1683 Words Sep 27th, 2016 7 Pages
Fault of an Image: Agency and Inevitability in “The Second Coming”

The anxieties regarding global chaos and the possibility of individual culpability that inundated popular thought in the aftermath of World War I informs William Butler Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming.” At its core, the poem is an exploration of the equivocal boundaries between individual agency—and further, responsibility—and the inevitability of world events determined by an act of divine providence. Rather than embracing negative capability, the speaker of the poem seeks desperately for resolution, an answer to the question of fate and responsibility, although ultimately he finds that humans will certainly fail to effectively channel whatever small agency they may have to prevent further destruction.
The speaker immediately challenges the agency of humans through the imagery of a falcon lost in the increasingly chaotic gyre. The depiction of a falcon “turning and turning” captures the disorientation and repetitive, unproductive actions of humans, undoubtedly casting their behavior in a negative light (Ellmann, et al. 1). But, as the speaker reveals through the contrast between the verb that could possibly hold agency (“turning”) in the opening line and the phrase that could serve as a justification (“the falcon cannot hear the falconer”) in the following line, the speaker is unsure whether the individuals can be held responsible for their unproductive actions (1,2). A falcon may be accountable for…

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