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The Circus Animals' Desertion

The Circus Animals' Desertion


by William Butler Yeats

The Circus Animals' Desertion Theme of Exploration

You could think of "The Circus Animals' Desertion" as Yeats cleaning out his closet, sifting through old socks and last year's coats. In this case, though, it's last year's characters (or, er, last decade's characters). Chances are that a journey through the past will yield things that don't seem like the brilliant ideas they appeared to be when you first came up with them. As this poem proves, thoughts (like coats) have a shelf life. What seemed useful and honest in 1907 might just seem contrived and complicated in 1939. At least, that's the conclusion Yeats reaches.

Questions About Exploration

  1. Is the second section of this poem exploring new ground or re-treading old terrain? How can you tell? Can revisiting old work also be a form of exploration?
  2. Do you think Yeats is charting new territory with this poem? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think Yeats is being innovative in this poem, or traditional? What makes you say so?
  4. What does Yeats's speaker finally conclude is most worth exploring? How does he reach this conclusion?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In this poem, Yeats proves that exploring old topics with fresh eyes can be just as valuable as charting new territory.

Yeats proves that exploring the human heart is more important than exploring myth when it comes to writing poetry.

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