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The Circus Animals' Desertion

The Circus Animals' Desertion


by William Butler Yeats

Irish Legend

Symbol Analysis

From giants to countesses to flying animals, this poem has it all. Even Yeats is so overwhelmed by the sheer excess of his mythic work that he refers to these magical creatures as his circus animals. And they have gotten out of hand.

  • Section I, 6-7: The circus animals Yeats describes are actually metaphors for his poetic creations. Can't you just imagine little sonnet-lions running around in his mind? Fun.
  • Section II, 2-3: Yeats alludes to the legend of Oisin here, creating an image of power, grandeur, and adventure that far outstrips his own life.
  • Section II, 10-11: These lines are both an allusion to Yeats's own play, The Countess Cathleen, and a metaphor for Yeats's feelings for Maud Gonne, the inspiration for Cathleen's character.
  • Section II, Lines 17-18: Cuchulain and his crew are mythic figures that come to stand in as symbols for Yeats's relationship to Ireland and Irish nationalism. Now that's an allusion.

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