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Rough Beast to Be Born in Accordance with Yeats’s View on Cosmic and Historical Cycle*

Kim Jooseong

Abstract

In A Vision Yeats combines Christianity with elements as disparate astheosophy, astrology, neoPlatonism, spiritualism, the magic and Cabbalistic traditions,the work of writers such as Swedenborg, Boehme and Blake. The end result, suchas “Ego Dominus Tuus” and “The Second Coming”, is a unitary system in whichYeats defines his ideas on history, religion and art.
“The Second Coming” depicts an apocalyptic scene, and the advent of a “roughbeast” oxymoronically slouching towards Bethlehem “to be born.” In accordancewith Yeats’s view on cosmic and historical cycles, which will be touched upon inthis essay, it is generally regarded as prophesizing the end of the “twenty centuries”of the Christian Era. It embodies or foreshadows the revelation of the character ofthe age to come, completely antithetical to that of the Christian Era, which, inYeats’s mind, was nearing its conclusion. The poem’s title, its biblically allusiveinfrastructure, and its Latin evocation of a “Spiritus mundi” (namely, “soul of theworld”) disclose its intention to cast an appeal on the “collective unconscious” ofthe entire Christian world
Such a coexistence of opposite forces would also conform perfectly with Yeats’sview of Unity of Being, which entails a detached and simultaneous outlook on bothGood and Evil. Yeats seems to have accessed this “antithetical” state ofconsciousness in “The Second Coming”, where the triumphal Christian connotationsevoked by the title are offset by the terrifying scenario in the poem, whichdescribes what is in fact a reverse apocalypse and the coming of the Antichrist. Onits most evident plane, Yeats’s “The Second Coming” is, obviously, the descriptionof an apocalyptic (or anti-apocalyptic) scene.

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