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Yeats’ Second Coming And Cummings’ What If A Much Of A Which Of A Wind

1975 words - 8 pages

The End of the World in Yeats’ Second Coming and Cummings’ what if a much of a which of a wind

Hellfire and brimstone, a massive environmental disaster, a third World War; how will the world end? This issue can stop conversations, or start hour long arguments; it can start a religion, or cause people to renounce their faith. The answer to the ubiquitous question of how the world will eventually end is a paradox; to know the answer means that the final hour has come. Both E.E. Cummings and William Butler Yeats express their premonitions about when and why this awesome event may occur. Both prophetize about the horrific destruction of the world in their poems, "what if a much of a which of a wind" and "The Second Coming"; however, Cummings and Yeats disagree on the final cause of this destruction. While both utilize graphic imagery, stark contrast, and unique syntax to warn their readers about the evils of mankind, Cummings predicts society's irresponsible use of technology will engender the world's end, while Yeats believes that men themselves, the "worst full of passionate intensity," will ultimately cause the downfall of civilization.

Cummings' use of intense and somewhat disturbing imagery in his poem "what if a much of a which of a wind" urges readers to realize the extent of the devastation caused by catastrophic, preventable, destruction. The first stanza of the poem, describing images such as the sun "bloodying the leaves", evokes terror in the reader. The thought of the sun, usually associated with warmth and love, destroying something that it has helped to develop, directly parallels technology's current role in society. Technology, usually thought of as beneficial to mankind, slowly destroys the society that it has helped to improve. The next stanzas, describing images such as "screaming hills with sleet and snow" and a wind that "strangles valleys by ropes of things" paint a detailed picture of the vast destruction caused by the incendiary raids used in World War II. The "screaming hills" symbolize the conflagration caused by the exploding bombs, while the "strangled valleys" pertain to the insidious destruction caused by the breakdown of life in the towns that were the victims of these attacks. These ideas enabled Cummings not only to frighten readers, but more importantly, to force readers to answer a question: Was the United States' carpet bombing of Japan and Germany in an attempt to end World War II morally right, or indisputably evil? "the most who die[the Germans and the Japanese], the more we[the people of the United States] live".


Cummings' personification of nature portrays technology's impending danger. Using pejorative images, Cummings warns of potential results of society's misuse of technology . The line "Yanking immortal stars awry" condemns the role that certain societies seems to be assuming over the lives of others. The "immortal stars" symbolize fate, and the image of the stars being "yanked...

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