Group Five presents: William Butler Yeats' "The Circus Animals' Desertion." Yeats welcomes you to his memories.


Read the Poem

Section One

Section Two

Section Three

Poetic Structure

Meet The Group

Yeats' Life


Section Two

Stanza II

The focus of the poem then returns to the frustration of the poet to find a "theme" (9) for his art. The second stanza begins by claiming that he has lost creativity and can do nothing but "enumerate old themes" (9). Yeats then makes allusion to Oisin, a character of Celtic mythology, and presents him as one of the deserting circus animals.

To learn more about Oisin, click here.

The diction found in the second stanza connotes feelings of despondency. The repetition of "vain" (1, 12) emphasizes the bleak outlook held by Yeats as a result of his writer's block. The use of words such as "battle" (12), "embittered" (13), "old" (14), and "starved" (16) have very strong negative connotations.

Yeats also displays his desire to join a world of fantasy in stating that he is "starved for the bosom of his faery bride" (16). He uses fantasy as a symbol for the world of his poetic creativity, a world to which he desires to return.

Stanza III

The poem then shifts its focus to the "half-crazed" (19) Countess Cathleen, another of the many circus animals on show. The understanding of her as Yeats' poetic creation gives a greater understanding of the anxiety felt by Yeats when writing "The Circus Animals Desertion".

The Countess Cathleen In Paradise

All the heavy days are over;
Leave the body's coloured pride
Underneath the grass and clover,
With the feet laid side by side.

Bathed in flaming founts of duty
She'll not ask a haughty dress;
Carry all that mournful beauty
To the scented oaken press.

Did the kiss of Mother Mary
Put that music in her face?
Yet she goes with footstep wary,
Full of earth's old timid grace.

'Mong the feet of angels seven
What a dancer glimmering!
All the heavens bow down to Heaven,
Flame to flame and wing to wing.

Brief Analysis

Stanza I

The Countess Cathleen apparently led a stressful and draining life. The first stanza refers to her "heavy days" that are over, as her body goes "underneath the grass and clover." Her death seems to be a relief from the difficult life she has lead, yet she looks back on her life with "coloured pride" of her accomplishments.

Stanza II

She felt obligated to take action in her "founts of duty". Her unselfish actions were analogous to her unselfish nature such that "she'll not ask a haughty dress." The Countess Cathleen has died in a way that causes people to be "mournful" of her "beauty", as if she has died undeservingly.

Stanza III

As she reaches heaven the Virgin Mary comforts her in a way that revives her of her saddened state. Yeats often uses music to represent freedom, such that the Mary is attempting to free her by questioning the "music in her face." Countess Cathleen sees her opportunity for happiness and "music", yet is still cautious "with footsteps wary", not allowing herself to let go of the sadness of "earths old timid grace." She is hesitant to take the leap towards joy for she has lived frightened for so long.

Stanza IV

The "feet of angles seven" could represent The Countess Cathleen in heaven looking down yet seeing the feet of joyous "dancer glimmering" among the angels. She finally finds relief and joy in heaven where she herself is described as "Heaven" which all heaven and hell look upon with great respect and admiration "flame to flame and wing to wing". Her accomplishments on earth though draining and "heavy" are respected in both heaven and hell.

Stanza IV

Yeats then makes allusion to the "Fool and the Blind Man" (25) and the Celtic hero "Cuchulain" (26). His focus on poetry and fantasy expresses how matters of "the dream itself enchanted" (28) him. These fantastical figures, symbolized as circus animals, "took all [his] love" (31) and "dominate memory" (30) of his great mind.

He clarifies that the object of his affection were the worlds of art and fantasy, "not those things that they were emblems of" (32). This statement has ideological ties, even if unintended, to the goal of Zen Buddhism to desymbolize the world.

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