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Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats' most famous poem. It is NOT about the Apocalypse and the second coming of Christ-- rather, it's a window in Yeats's own cosmology and worldview, predicting the fall of the Christian world order and the rising of a new empire. It was written just after World War One, the failed Irish Rising (in which Yeats lost several close friends, and the Russian Revolution which probably explains a lot. Incidentally, it's considered one of Yeats' best works and is referenced endlessly in all forms of pop culture.

Widely considered one of the most definitive examples of Modernist poetry.

Not to be confused with The Second Coming.

Alluded to by:

  • American Gods: The New Gods tend to speak in cliches, so it's not surprising that one of them had the whole damn poem memorized.
  • Andromeda's first season finale is called "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last".
  • Angel: An episode entitled "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" forebodes the arrival of a demon known as The Beast.
  • Batman
    • Specifically, a miniseries titled The Widening Gyre.
  • Heroes: One episode replaced the standard episode-ending Mohinder Fauxlosophic Narration with him reciting the poem in whole, which was a vast improvement.
  • Sailor Moon
  • The Sopranos
  • Quoted by Starkey, a government employee in Stephen King's The Stand, after a human-made virus, which will certainly destroy civilization escapes. "The beast is on its way. It’s on its way, and it’s a good deal rougher than that fellow Yeets ever could have imagined. Things are falling apart. The job is to hold as much as we can for as long as we can."
  • U2
  • Beast quotes it in X-Factor #70. Colossus thinks it's from Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov ("it sounded Russian").
  • A Robert B Parker novel about political corruption is entitled The Widening Gyre.
  • Chinua Achebe's best known work is called Things Fall Apart.
  • One of Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 novels is called The Center Cannot Hold.
  • G'Kar quotes the poem in Babylon 5, equating the escalating prelude to the Shadow War to things falling apart.
  • Parodied by eccentric bum Bert Nix in The Big U by Neal Stephenson
  • Recited by the poet Martin Silenus in Hyperion. He doesn't take it too seriously.
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