Harrison, John R. “What Rough Beast? Yeats, Nietzsche and Historical Rhetoric in ‘The Second Coming'” Papers on Language and Literature (September 1995): 362-88.
Harrison argues that in his poem “The Second Coming” (known for such lines as “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” and “what rough beast … slouches towards Bethlehem) Yeats presents readers with a Nietzschean-influenced vision of history. According to Harrison Yeats had a cyclical view of history. In this case, it is pictured as a gyre or cone shape. Picture two of these cones coming together at their points. That center is the birth of Christ. But now, Yeats, says that center cannot hold. After 2,000 years Christianity has run its course and the world is slipping into anarchy. Christian theology would say that the falling apart of the world points to the Second Coming of Christ. But Yeats sees instead the revival of the pagan sphinx, “A shape with lion body and the head of a man,” as it “Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” In other words, the Second Coming that Yeats envisions is the coming of anti-Christ rather than the coming of Christ.