Achebe takes the title for his novel from a line in a classic Western modernist poem “The Second Coming” (written 1919, published 1921) by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Paul Brians explains the background of Yeats’ poem: “Yeats was attracted to the spiritual and occult world and fashioned for himself an elaborate mythology to explain human existence. ‘The Second Coming,’ written after the catastrophe of World War I and with communism and fascism rising, is a compelling glimpse of an inhuman world about to be born. Yeats believed that history in part moved two thousand-year cycles. The Christian ear, which followed that of the ancient world, was about to give way to an ominous period represented by the rough, pitiless beast in the poem.” Read the poem (below) and consider why Achebe might choose to take the title of his novel from Yeats’ poem. Consider how Achebe’s literary allusion to Yeats’ poem might deepen or extend–by comparison and/or contrast–the meaning(s) of Achebe’s title and his novel. Your response should be a 300+ word (minimum) short essay.
The Second Coming
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 MundiTroubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert 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 Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleepWere vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?