It is important to mention in this poem analysis of “Among Schoolchildren” by W.B. Yeats that this emptiness and hollow vacant smile is the result of not having lived a life that has result in anything significant. Like a scarecrow, he is destined to live only in the moment and does not have the ability to move from his post. He is spiritually fated to remain in one place, always looking out but never moving forward. Because of Yeats’ frustration with his inability to attain the woman he most desired, and later, as expressed in the poem “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” W.B. Yeats is suggesting that old age is most frightening when it is accompanied by a life unfulfilled. As he is in the schoolroom, he cannot see the children for what they are, but only looks to the past, trying to recapture some vital essence that might have changed things, or at least would bring them back for a precious moment.
For William Butler Yeats, as this thesis statement suggests, aging is part of that awful inevitable process of decay and dissolution. In one of the most poignant stanzas for analysis in “Among Schoolchildren”, the speaker wonders about a young mother beholding her son. He wonders if a mother would think the eventual decay and breakdown of old age would change things for her somehow if, “did she but see that shape / with sixty or more winters on its head / a compensation for the pang of his birth.” In other words, if a mother were to see the eventual state of a son—one who has lived and been young but is now a mere husk of man—would the joys and anxieties of birth, motherhood, or even life itself be worth it? It is also worth pointing out that such thoughts about speculations of mothers do not seem to appear often, if at all, throughout the works of Yeats.
As this poem analysis of “Among Schoolchildren” by W.B. Yeats suggests, through this particular action in the poem he is attempting to recapture youth through the mere idea of being born, of questioning not only the look of a child, but what they would grow into and how they would age. In general, although “Among Schoolchildren” by W.B. Yeats is a poem with rich imagery revolving around youth, it is ultimately a poem about the process of aging. William Butler Yeats spent his life living in the past, always remembering, always attempting to recapture something vital about youth. This almost obsessive interest in either the distant past (think of his obsession with Byzantium, for example, as detailed earlier in the analysis of the poem “Sailing to Byzantium”) or his own past masks a deep fear of aging and of growing into the husk or grinning scarecrow he so invokes in his poetry.
One of the final poems by William Butler Yeats, “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” speaks not only of his fear of physical aging but more importantly, his fear of being aged after leading a life that was not substantial or full of meaning. This is an attempt by W.B. Yeats to look back upon his vast career and question the themes that had once been prominent during his days as a young poet. It is within this poem and more specifically, in this particular interpretation of “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” that both of these fears coalesce and the reader is finally exposed to the true Yeats, without artifice or gilded imagery guiding the meaning. In the poem “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” the images appear as hollow fantasies and Yeats expresses his understanding of his development as an artist as well as a man. In old age he feels as though he has been misled, but by whom remains unclear.
At the beginning of the poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” the speaker or narrator of the poem states that he has been looking for a theme for “six weeks or so” and one gets the impression that he has run through the course of old imagery and found that it lacks what his old age and wisdom needs to convey. He tells the reader, “Maybe at last, being but a broken man, / I must be satisfied with my heart, although winter and summer till old began / My circus animals were all on show.” These circus animals obscured his fears and anxieties and it seems that now that he has actually reached old age and infirmity, it is only right that these magical images be traded in for a discussion about his heart.