The Circus Animals’ Desertion
I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.
What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.
And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
‘The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.
And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. 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.
Oisin — pronounced “uh-SHEEN”; Oisin (also called
Ossian) is a legendary Celtic hero about whom Yeats wrote one of his
Celtic Revival poems. In the poem, Yeats tells of how Oisin is
taken to faery-land by Niamh (pronounced “nee-AHV”), an
The Countess Cathleen — The name of one of Yeats’s
Noh-style plays and its heroine. Set during the famine, the play
tells how agents of the devil come to Ireland offering to buy the starving
peasants’ souls for gold. Cathleen sells her possessions
to buy food for her people and then is willing to sell her soul (over
the objections of a poet) to ensure their survival. At the end
of the play, she is saved because her sacrifice was meant to save her
people. The play was extremely controversial, and condemned by
the Catholic church, which argued that no number of mortal lives was
worth the sacrifice of an immortal soul, that no Irish woman would ever
make such a choice, and that God would not intervene to save one who
had. Still, the play was a success, and is still performed.
Cuchulain —pronounced “kuh-HOO-lin”; another
legendary Celtic hero, leader of the Knights of the Red Branch, also
called The Hound of Ulster. Yeats wrote of him in the 1892 poem “The
Death of Cuchulain,” and re-wrote the poem in 1925 “Cuchulain’s
Fight with the Sea.” He also told Cuchulain’s story
in the play On Baile’s Strand, in which the
Fool and the Blind Man are also characters.
rag and bone shop —
a junk shop, quite common in England and Ireland at that time, where
you could buy and sell rags and such.
1937 or 1938
“In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political
terms.” — Thomas Mann
How can I, that
girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!