‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’


We talked today about W.B. Yeats’ late poem, ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’, and I gave you some questions to think about for next week’s class. We’ll discuss these further then, but you’re welcome to post some initial answers (or to post your answers here next week, after the class discussion).  I’m also posting the questions here for those of you who missed the seminar today. If you have other things to say about this poem, or about Yeats’s other poems, please feel free to post those here too.



  1. What do the circus animals figure, or represent, here? What connotations do circus animals have? And what does this make the speaker of the poem?
  2. This poem is in ottava rima, an Italian form most often associated with epic poetry of great heroes. What is the effect of Yeats’ use of a metrical form associated with the epic hero here?
  3. How closely do you think we should associate this poem with Yeats himself? Why?
  4. Do you prefer the early Yeats of the Celtic Twilight, and such poems as ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ – or the late Yeats of ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’? Give reasons for your answers.
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6 Responses to ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’

  1. Circus animals can represent his former creations and now the inspirations for all his previous poems don’t cut it any more. He is confronting all these unreal and illusional situation and he is moving past the modern and into the postmodernism. Circus animals are the old ones that are used in past and now he is seeking for a new ones.

  2. ie20902343 says:

    2.I think that the poems “A Coat”, “The Lake of Isle of Innisfree” and “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” reveal Yeats’ taking a different path in literature. In “The Lake of Isle of Innisfree”, we see that his word choices and the setting hint at his fondness in Romanticism. However with “A Coat”, Yeats moves towards Imagist poetry and we see his tendency in simplicity rather than Georgian poetry. With “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”, Yeats revises his former poetry. At this point Yeats is very old and he sees his former poetry as mere imitation, like the way circus animals are tamed. Thus he is the master and his poetry is a performance, a show put on stage. Here, we understand that he undermines Romanticism and he opts to create his poetry in the filthiest place, in harsh realism, perhaps.

  3. n20900754 says:

    Question 1:Since this is a poem about writing poetry, the circus animals that are mentioned in the title represent the speaker’s past poetic career, which makes the poet himself the master of the circus. So, what he means by circus animals’ desertion is that his poetic instincts and abilities have abandoned him now. He used to have control over what he wrote or what theme he was going to use, but now he has run out of themes. His circus animals have deserted him and he does not have the control over them any more. He searches for a theme to write a poem but he searches in vain. He says that the images he used in his former poems have all emerged from the rubbish and old-fashioned realities of life and now that these images and inspirations have abandoned him, he has decided to lie where all these inspirations that have formed the “circus animals” have started or have emerged from. The fact that this poem represents an end for the proloficacy of the poet in terms of the modernist themes may be the reason why some critics comment on this poem saying that it symbolizes a transition from modernist writing to post-modernism.

  4. 20801343l says:

    In “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” Yeats describes different poetic figures as the circus animals that have deserted him. The circus animals are a kind of metaphor which represents the speaker’s past characters and themes. The desertion of circus animals is used as a metaphor since the poet, who lacks inspiration, wants to have new poetic inspiration. In order to write this poem Yeats revises his past and his poetic career. He thinks that he is too old and the circus animals have deserted him. With this poem, he wants to avoid the world of the present. He describes the image of the “circus” saying: “stilted boys, that burnished chariot, /Lion and woman”. He decides to to “be satisfied with [his] heart” as a poetic theme, so his inspiration for a poetic theme also forms an inspiration for meaning in his life.

  5. ceren20601875 says:

    We’ve already established that “the circus animals” represent Yeats’ former poems of his earlier Celtic twilight style which made him famous and was imitated by other poets as well. This style enabled him to be recognized as a successful poet and this success or “former” glory (because his animals deserted him) is reflected by the ottova rima form which is associated with epic poetry of great heroes. He was the hero; the ring-master in perfect control of his poetry, but as the times changed; so did poetry. In his attempts to keep up with modern poetry and successful modernist poets like Eliot and Pound, Yeats tried to change his style; the difference is evident between his earlier poems such as “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and his later poems such as ” The Circus Animals’ Desertion”. But he was older by that time and perhaps he felt that he would not be able to create the success he had with his earlier poems; so he put himself in the position of the ring-master who felt his animals deserted him and left him with only the reminiscences of his former glory, which he probably thought he could not have again.

  6. 20804215k says:

    As we have argued in class beforehand “the circus animals’ represent Yeats’ earlier poetic creations which he wrote about before this poem. He names the title of the poem as “The Circus Animals’ Desertion'” to indicate that he does not have the inspiration to create his own creations as beautiful as his earlier “circus animals” any more. On lines 7-8 in the firs stanza the poetic persona says that “Although Winter and Summer till old age began, my circus animals were all on show, Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot, Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.” Here we see that he mentions about several characters that he has created earlier. They represent in a way the poets fertile days when he composed many works based on his imagination not reality. In that, the speaker of the poem becomes the manager of the circus, who is abondened by his animals.

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