“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Halloween approaches, friends, and what better way to ring it in than with the scariest freakin’ poem in the English language? That’s right: we’re bringing out W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming.”

Collected Yeats

You know it’s bad when “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (l.4). I mean, anarchy is bad, not just “mere,” right? Really bad, à la The Dark Knight Rises? Turns out that’s just the start:

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. (ll.5-8)


And then there’s the Big Bad, as fellow Joss Whedon fans* might say: a thing, its gaze “blank and pitiless as the sun,” “A shape with lion body and the head of a man.” It’s the formlessness that’s frightening; there’s no sign of intelligence in the blank eyes. It’s inexorable, this shape. It’s not a lion with a man’s head, but a shape. And get this: it’s “moving its slow thighs.” It’s in no great rush to destroy the world, because the destruction is inevitable.  If that doesn’t give you the creeps, I don’t know what will.

Wait a second. Yes I do. This will:

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?

*First Evil, anyone?

[Honorable Mention, Children’s Category: “Seein’ Things,” Eugene Fields]

What’s your pick for scariest poem?

10 thoughts on ““And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

  1. Love this, Carolyn! I’m not sure I’ve ever read the poem in its entirety — a travesty, I know — so thanks for the link. It is absolutely frightening, the imagery is gripping! Would love to be able to bring a little of that to my own work — well, minus the creep factor. 😉

    I love “The Raven” though I suppose it would be cited by most folks. On the long side, I really like Byron’s “Manfred” and then there is Sylvia Plath’s “Pursuit”.

    Cheers, you!

  2. T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” is the creepiest for me.
    “This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper” We aren’t even important enough for a big exit.

  3. Pingback: Paradise Lost, Books IX and X: Crime and Punishment | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

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