Prophetic and Catastrophic Voices in The Second Coming and The Waste Land

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

The mythological allusion that Eliot considers most important is that of Tiresias. Tiresias is a character who, in Greek mythology, spent time as a man and as a woman. He was blinded for spite and had the gift of prophecy. In Tiresias, Eliot makes all the sexes one. Tiresias unites all the people in the poem into one person. Each individual person in the poem represents a type of human, and by uniting the characters Eliot makes the “wasteland” a universal human condition. Tiresias understands the wasteland, and because of his having prior experience with desolation in “Thebes,” he also offers hope for improvement to all. The Waste Land and “The Second Coming” see the present in the same light but the future differently. Both poets see the same terrible present because they experienced a similar disappointment with man’s inherent goodness after First World War. Their visions of the approaching days differ because of the way that their religious beliefs have developed. Eliot, as a Christian, believes that there is a chance of escaping desolation, while Yeats, incorporating Christianity with his own personal mythology, believes that the impending days will be a return to the horrors of the ancient past. A close reading of the poem, combined with some simple genetic work, shows that Yeats saw the new order as a reign of terror haunted by war. From the title of “The Second Coming,” one might expect to read about the glorious return of Christ to save his followers. However, Yeats portrays a dismal world where anarchy reigns over the innocence of man. He considered Christianity an idea whose time had passed. “The Second Coming” is not, as its title and the Bethlehem reference might suggest an account of the return of the Messiah. What is being born is nothing resembling Christ. Therefore, the passage, “the Second Coming is at hand,” portrays a dark and ominous atmosphere that serves as a warning to what may lie ahead for humankind if we continue on our current path.

As a modernist poet, Eliot struggled to get rid of the voice of the author from his work but the work is still a reflection of the author’s analysis. He paints the image as he sees it for the readers to view and interpret from their own perspective. The Waste Land could be viewed as a chronicle of Eliot’s difficult and not quite successful journey to confront his own unconscious or spiritual reality. In his poem The Waste Land, Eliot employs a water motif, which represents both death and rebirth. This ties in with the religious motif, as well as the individual themes of the sections and the theme of the poem as a whole, that modern man is in a wasteland, and must be reborn. The poem, however, does not answer its own question, maybe because the presence of water would make things right. Still, the end of The Waste Land seems to hold some comfort, some hope that the unfairness in the world need not be continued. The Christian material is at the center, but Eliot never deals with it directly. The theme of resurrection is made on the surface in terms of the fertility rites; the words which the thunder speaks are Sanskrit words. He is so much a man of his own age that he can indicate his attitude toward the Christian tradition without falsity only in terms of the difficulties of rehabilitation; and he is so much a timeless poet and so little an extremist that he can be sincere only as he presents his theme concretely and dramatically (Southam, 1994, p.198).

Both Yeats’s “Second Coming” and Eliot’s The Waste Land present a renewal of process, but each one focuses on diverse goals and subjects. Eliot focuses on a person’s alteration, whereas Yeats predicts a turn of the whole world as a result of an amplification of chaos. Eliot, on the other hand, uses ambiguity to support and develop his theme: death is the way to rebirth. In contrast, Yeats maintains a pessimistic tone created by his futility on the bleak situation of mankind.

Yeats also focuses on the loss of control of a higher power over a lower power. In “The Second Coming” the loss of control is symbolized by the line “the falcon cannot hear the falconer” (“The Second Coming”, 2). Here the falcon is the symbol of the lesser power and the falconer the symbol of the higher power. The line says that after time passes the powers change. Another reflective idea that dominates the poem is about the power of the superior force. The superior force is not always an object that one can feel or hold in his or her hand but it could be as simple as an idea. The superior force in “The Second Coming” was not the apocalypse but it was time. Time cannot be paused or turned back so whatever is done may never be changed. Time does not allow the world to prepare for “The Second Coming”, so all hope is lost since the superior powers are not using good sense. Similarly, our world changes from day to day. Everything we do now reflects on how the future will be. In “The Second Coming” there is no way to stop the apocalypse from happening. So, the world becomes helpless and falls victim to “The Second Coming”. The story that the poem told were of life’s end – a horrific vision of life.

In this regard, here the researcher would like to cite the text Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) – a collection of essays by Joan Didion that mainly describes her experiences in California during the 1960s. Interestingly, it takes its title from the poem ‘The Second Coming’, by W. B. Yeats. The title essay mirrors the basic structure of the poem as well. Didion stands in the same position as Yeats’s speaker, describing a social disaster, feeling the center start to give out. Didion reported the piece from San Francisco, “where the social hemorrhaging was showing up,” “where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves ‘hippies’” (Didion,1968). She tells of the confused youth she met there, including a five-year-old named Susan whose mother feeds her acid and peyote. She muses that the hippies are dealing with “society’s atomization,” for which their parents are responsible: “At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing,” (Didion, 1968).

It seems the world is on a nonstop express ride to trouble—trouble that is deep, wide and deadly and it is a never-ending process. Both Eliot and Yeats keenly felt this disillusionment, and demonstrated it in their poetry. In addition to the war, Eliot and Yeats also saw the continuing turmoil in Europe, such as the Russian Revolution and the Irish Rebellions, as confirmation of their fear of man’s nature and expanded their disillusionment in The Waste Land and “The Second Coming.” The poets shared more than a disbelief in mankind’s innate quality. Both of the poets afraid that the grotesque creature or evil minds are going to rule the next historical era – since the world turns a place of chaos and disaster (Matthews, 2015).


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