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Forum Home > Poetry > 'the widening gyre' Dr Brearton's seminar on Yeats

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Renowned Yeats scholar and Reader in Modern Poetry at Queens University Belfast, Dr Fran Brearton will be running a revision seminar on Yeats' poetry , focusing especially on 'The Second Coming', on this forum at 4-5pm, Monday 14th May.

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May 11, 2012 at 4:50 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Reading: Yeats's 'The Second Coming'. Some specific questions to think about over the weekend might be:

'The Second Coming' was first drafted in January 1919. How important is the historical context in which it was written to our understanding of the poem?

What is the 'centre' that 'cannot hold'?

How do the stylistic features of the poem (rhythm, verse structure, imagery, repetition etc) work to reinforce its meaning?

What's your reading of the tone of the poem - fear, excitement, resignation...?

How does Yeats draw on myth, in this and other poems, and to what effect?

 

May 11, 2012 at 5:44 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

The seminar will be starting soon on this forum...would anyone like to begin by answering one of Dr Brearton's questions? If you have any problems with updating the posts, click out of the seminar and back in again. It should then update automatically...

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May 14, 2012 at 10:59 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Good afternoon. To get us started, I wonder if anyone who has been studying this poem by Yeats, and others from around the same time, has any thoughts on how 'The Second Coming' responds to important historical events in the early 20th century?

May 14, 2012 at 11:03 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Lily
Member
Posts: 4

The free verse style of the poem indicates the overwhelming subject matter at hand that cannot be encompassed in a regular metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.

May 14, 2012 at 11:04 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hattie Kimber
Member
Posts: 8

To me this poem shows Yeats' thoughts and feelings on the changes that had occured in Ireland. A lot of his work focuses on this issue and I think that he shows his distain and hatred for the changes taking place in both Ireland and the world through the harsh, violent language and imagery especially. The poem's meter and rhyme seems quite loose and unordered, which could parallel the idea of the chaos; 'The falcon cannot hear the falconer'.

May 14, 2012 at 11:06 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

For instance, it's a poem that doesn't seem to say anything specific about historical events, but it's written not long after the First World War, and at a time of massive upheaval in Europe. Can we see that upheaval as something Yeats was responding to?

 

May 14, 2012 at 11:06 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Lily
Member
Posts: 4

I guess it could be linked to Irish Airman time-period wise, because it's just after the end of the First World War. Maybe it could be referring to the beginning of that war loosing 'mere anarchy' by challenging the balance of the world as a whole? It was the first worldwide war, after all.

May 14, 2012 at 11:06 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Daniel Chang
Member
Posts: 10

the reference to a new bethlehem suggets that yeats own personal interpretation of current events are that of a new era - that the turning of the 20th century represented a new age in a similar way to that of the coming of christ - BC/AD

May 14, 2012 at 11:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hattie Kimber
Member
Posts: 8

This poem was written after the first world war, so this could have significance in the respect that the economic climate was not good and after so much fighting in the world and so many lives lost, the world couldn't have seemed to be a great place.

May 14, 2012 at 11:08 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

It's an interesting point, Lily, about the loose form of the poem. It's very roughly inambic pentameter, but so varied it feels almost like free verse. And it only has occasional rhymes, that seem themselves to 'fall apart' once we're a few lines in...

May 14, 2012 at 11:08 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Helen Pearce
Member
Posts: 6

Considering historical context, it could be argued that Yeats is expressing his view of post-war Europe - being on the edge of a massive upheaval.

May 14, 2012 at 11:09 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hattie Kimber
Member
Posts: 8

The biblical references could also suggest that the war was an event which led to a new age and world, although Yeats doesn't seem to think it will be a positive one.

May 14, 2012 at 11:09 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack May
Member
Posts: 59

Perhaps the poem is less to do with the historical context of the first world war or of events in Ireland at the time, and can be more usefully analysed in the context of Yeats' marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees and the automatic writing that produced 'A Vision'? The imagery in the poem seems more mystic, apocalyptic and extraordinary than just an interpretation of and reaction to historical events. Although I may well be wrong!

May 14, 2012 at 11:09 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Lily
Member
Posts: 4

Yeats wasn't especially religious, but I find his language in this to be quite interesting. For example, it's not clear whether the 'rocking cradle' means the birth of Jesus or the anti-Christ.

May 14, 2012 at 11:10 AM Flag Quote & Reply

congly
Member
Posts: 26

It was written during a time of important change in Ireland-- The Irish War of Independance, and this is why I believe that "center" which "cannot hold" is Ireland. Due to all that is happening in the Irish War (and not to mention WW1), it seems as if it is all beginnning to collapse and "cannot hold". Once this "centre" which is currently holding everything together collapses, a new gyre will start in the center of the previous -- it's a never ending line. Yeats suggests that it shall be a new, violent era with "mere anarchy is loosed upon the world" as a "rough beast" is the new Jesus -- "its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" -- a new era is coming to Ireland.

May 14, 2012 at 11:11 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Yes, it's a poem that shows Yeats's distaste for some of the ways in which the world was changing - in terms of war on a massive scale, new technology etc. And part of its context is specifically Irish too, when we think of the 'terrible beauty' of Easter 1916 and the ways in which Ireland was shaping itself after the First World War.

May 14, 2012 at 11:11 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Hattie Kimber
Member
Posts: 8

The speaker is almosy prophetic in the way they talk about the revelation and what is happening, especially in the first stanza.

May 14, 2012 at 11:12 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Samuel
Member
Posts: 11

Like the dactyl of "widening" (stress unstress unstress) - as we read it we experience the word itself 'falling apart', as if to reflect the events that Yeats is detailing

May 14, 2012 at 11:12 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Fran Brearton
Member
Posts: 49

Jack and Congly have picked up on something important in this poem - the extent to which it is linked to Yeats's rather quirky view of history, and his belief in a 'Vision' dictated to his wife by spirits, and relayed to him via automatic writing. Otherwise it's hard to make sense of the opening line's reference to 'widening gyres'...

May 14, 2012 at 11:13 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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