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Yeats Essay

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How does Yeats use his theory of the "gyre" to expostulate his ideas on history and why?

William Butler Yeats spent years creating his theory of the universe which he described in his book titled A Vision. The theory of history that Yeats conveyed in his book focuses on the a diagram made of two conical spirals that he called gyres, one inside the other, so that the widest part of one of the spirals rings around the narrowest part of the other spiral, and vice versa. Yeats believed that these gyres portrayed the motions natural within the historical process, and he divided each gyre into identifiable regions that represented specific historical periods. This theory developed from his lifetime interest in the occult and mystical. This theory is not of any permanent significance except for how it affected his poetry, which is of great importance.

Yeats uses this theory in his poem titled "The Second Coming". In this poem Yeats intends to describe the current historical moment in terms of these gyres. When Yeats wrote this poem in 1921 he believed that the world was on the verge of an apocalyptic revelation, as history reached the end of the outer gyre, and began moving along the inner gyre. This apocalyptic revelation is expressed in the poem in the lines, "Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand." Yeats believes that the world's path along the gyre of diversity, science, and democracy, is now coming apart, like how "the falconer cannot hear the falconer" anymore. In his own notes, Yeats explained "The end of an age, which always receives the revelation of the character of the next age, is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction." This shows how Yeats believes that the next age will not take its character from the same gyre but from the gyre that opposes the inner gyre. The new age is represented by the symbol of the "rough beast" who "slouches toward Bethlehem to be born," and his vision of the character of the new world is the sphinx.

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