First of all, here’s the line as it actually reads: “Players and painted stage took all my love.” It’s there in every version of Yeats’s “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” that I (or you or anyone) have ever read. The thing is, that’s not what I have seen. Thanks to my copyeditor’s diligence, I now see that for forty years I have been inserting a “the” ahead of “painted stage.” If you were my student, you heard me put it in there. You may even think, thanks to me, that it belongs. But it doesn’t. And realizing that error was distressing.
You’d think I would have noticed. As written, the line scans: PLAY-ers and PAINT-ed STAGE took ALL my LOVE–the first foot inverted to a trochee (DUM-da) but all the rest iambs (da-DUM). With the inserted “the,” we have eleven rather than ten syllables, and so on. But what’s an extraneous syllable among friends? Most poets, Yeats included, add them from time to time (or drop on out), and how can you rule it out with a poet who ends the following line with a preposition–“And not those things that they were emblems of”–which was a bigger no-no in the thirties than it is now. Mostly, however, it just feels, has always felt, right to me. But I promise to reform. Henceforth, I shall endeavor to read the line as written.
I wish for you, Dear Reader, less shock upon discovering your misreadings. More, I hope you have none to regret.