“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats uses a lot of religious symbolism, as one might expect. In line 2, he writes, “The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” According to Symbolism Wiki, “In Christian symbolism, the wild falcon represents the unconverted, materialistic soul and its sinful thoughts and deeds. The tamed bird symbolizes the Christian convert pursuing his lofty thoughts, hopes, and aspirations with courage.”
The falcon is likely humanity, and the falconer might represent Jesus. According to the Bible, as the world grows nearer to the end times, many people will stop believing in Jesus and turn instead to false prophets. Matthew 24:10-11 in the Bible says, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (biblegateway.com). Without a falconer, a falcon becomes wild, which represents how people will stop listening to Jesus and turn to sinful ways of life.
Even a century after this poem was written, I think a lot of people my age can relate to the anticipation of an oncoming end that this poem expresses. With issues like our planet being destroyed and gun violence becoming routine, it’s hard to find hope that things will be better someday. Yet it’s comforting, in a way, knowing that we’re not the first to feel so cynical. It’s like the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel: the world has always been a mess, and this is nothing new.
“The ceremony of innocence is drowned,” Yeats writes in line 6. This reminds me of a quote from the film Platoon: “The first casualty of war is innocence.” I’ve never seen Platoon, which is about the Vietnam War, but I think the words can apply to every war. World War I introduced a new era of warfare, one that was more brutal and horrifying than previous fighting styles. Throughout the Western world, an entire generation of young men like Yeats must have felt like they lost their innocence in such a traumatizing war.
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