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The Circus Animals' Desertion

The Circus Animals' Desertion

by William Butler Yeats

Literature and Writing Theme

When a world-class poet gets writer's block, what does he do? Well, he writes a poem about not being able to write a poem, which is exactly the kind of poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion" is. Tricky, eh? In this poem, Yeats thinks through the possibilities (and impossibilities) of Irish mythology, Modernism, and his own work, just a find a way to write a poem. And as it turns out, each one of them has all sorts of problems for our speaker.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. If Yeats needs to find new themes, why might he use a very traditional form (ottava rima) to do so?
  2. What do you think Yeats is saying about writing? Is it something he does or is it something that happens to him? Does it change over time?
  3. Is this poem about Yeats ending his career or beginning a new stage of it? How can you tell?
  4. Is this a poem about writing poetry? Why or why not?

Chew on This

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

Yeats is telling us that all writing comes from the heart, and anything that doesn't is not true writing.

In this poem, Yeats argues that writing about the heart makes for bad poetry. That's why he uses words like "foul" and "refuse."

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