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Interpretation of the Symbolism in ”The Second Coming” as a Decolonial Poem


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De-colonial text.

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Interpretation of the Symbolism in ”The Second Coming” as a Decolonial Poem

  1. 1. !1 Sarah A. Abdussalam Professor Nawal Morsi Eng 4115 18 November 2013 " Interpretation of the symbolism in ”The Second Coming” as a decolonial poem " " INTRODUCTION " The conflict between Britain and Ireland was on many levels, but mainly religion, land, and identity. The Irish were degraded because they are Catholics while the British are Protestants, their land was occupied, and their identity was demolished. William Butler Yeats is an Anglo-Irish and a modernist. His main mission was to end the British colonisation over Ireland, and he heavily used symbolism to address this issue. This reading of “The Second Coming” will depict how Yeats prophecies the decolonisation of Ireland. The poem sums up the time in which it was written, that is, the aftermath of WWI and the Russian revolution and on the eve of the Anglo-Irish War in which the Irish fought for independence. " THE GYRE The first symbol is the gyre which is a pair of cones, the narrow end of each cone being the centre of the broad end of the other. Technically, it stands from the alternation between two historical cycles: the world's gyre is shifted by a revelation every two thousand years. The results are evident in the upheaval caused by Christ's teaching, an upheaval two thousand years before that, and the frightening wars of Yeats' time. Those violent years coincide with the birth if an Irish Identity. “The men of 1916 had offered their deaths to history. In doing so, they had broken the cycle of eternal recurrence. Their consciousness of themselves became the consciousness of the race” (Celtic Revival by Seamus Deane). Therefore, “the widening gyre” that is getting weaker and weaker symbolises the British colonialism.
  2. 2. !2 THE FACON, THE FALCONER, AND THE DESERT BIRDS Furthermore, “The falcon,” symbolising the Irish nation is breaking away from the falconer, the British domination, and is no longer controlled by it. Other birds are mentioned in the second part of the poem, too. They are described as having “reel shadows.” And the word “reel” is a name of an Irish folklore dance. Mentioning names from the Irish culture serves as a decolonial characteristic. “Yeats remembers in his poetic style, as in his performative chanting, that “Ireland has a still living folk tradition,” in contrast to what he thought of as the writtenness of England’s “impersonal philosophical poetry.” (The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English by Jahan Ramazani) " THE CHAOTIC SITUATION “Things fall apart;” the situation is uncontrollable. “The centre cannot hold;” the unity of the colonisers broke in the aftermath of the moral decay. Consequently, “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” There was a series of earth-shaking events, Dublin was witnessing a lot of rallies, people were dying on the streets, and there was a lot of arrests and imprisonments. “The blood- dimmed tide is loosed,” the rebellion revealed the worst in in the humans. It is an ugly picture showing utter violence and cruelty. “The ceremony of innocence is drowned;” this shift in the cycle shocked the people who are not used to this brutality. Whereas, “the best” people lack the ability to make a difference. This is the climax of the upward spiralling motion and the inevitable birth of the rough beast as “its hour comes” is the beginning of a new era. " THE SPHINX According to Donald Davie, the Sphinx is given monstrous features because it is a part of the traumatic transition which is the revelation, not because it is evil in itself: “the poem says...that when the superhuman invades the human realm all that the human can say of it is that it is non- human: there can be no discriminating at such a time between subhuman and superhuman, between bestial and divine” (A contributor in An Honoured Guest: New Essays on W.B. Yeats by Denis
  3. 3. !3 Donoghue and J.R. Mulryne). The Sphinx might symbolise two things: first, it is combination of a human head; intellectuals, and an animal body; intensified mob. United they lead a revolution to replace the older systemic this spiralling motion, Christianity. The other reading of this symbol is that is it might refer to the Egyptian Civilisation which is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. And it was not merely based on race nor religion, rather the Egyptians had a national identity, they had a map, a system, and a culture of their own. Therefore, the Sphinx may refer to Yeats’s futuristic vision and hope for the Irish people to have their independent national identity. Also as opposed to Christ who in this case represents the old world order; or colonisation. " " " " " " " "