The Circus Animals' Desertion
by William Butler Yeats
Where It All Goes Down
The Yellow Brick Road, a.k.a. A Poet's Memory Lane
You could think of Yeats as Dorothy in this particular journey. As we travel along in his wicker basket, we get firsthand accounts of the wonders of life with the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. (Or, to be precise, with Oisin and Cathleen and Cuchulain.) Now that we think of it, just like Dorothy, Yeats's speaker manages to pick up a rather large assortment of circus animals. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Of course, this comparison makes us… Toto? Oh well, you can't be too picky.
There's lots of beautiful and marvelous things on the road they travel down, and our speaker seems to enjoy getting caught up in the drama and excitement of every memory he stumbles upon. Much like our favorite little girl in a gingham dress, though, Yeats ends up wishing for things that have nothing to do with the glamour and glitter of fantasy and memory. He wants the truth… even if that truth turns out to be unglamorous. Reality usually is. Plus, like Dorothy, he wants to go back to the places his poetry originally came from. He wants to go home.
To make our analogy even creepier, Yeats and Dorothy share one key thing in common: their journeys were all in their heads, which means there's really no setting at all. (So why read Yeats instead of watching The Wizard of Oz? Well, for one thing, you won't have "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" running through your head all day. That's gotta count for something.)