The Circus Animals' Desertion
How we cite our quotes:
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of. (2.23-24)
Talk about a soul-searching project. Being able to distinguish between reality and "emblem" – or between truth and its literary representation – is one of the central problems this poem poses, and it's a doozy.
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems, (2.4-5)
Notice the repetition of the word "vain" in this line. It does an amazing job of cancelling out pretty much whatever word comes after it. What we read, then, is not a catalog of awesome actions; it's a list of pointless desires.
Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. (3.6-8)
Pay attention, folks: this is one of the key quotes of this poem – and, come to think of it, of Yeats's work in general. For Yeats, "the foul rag and bone shop of the heart" might not be pretty – but it's where the true work of living and writing takes place.