The poetry of life. It can make you laugh or cry; throw something in disgust; or stare blankly out a window, pondering new meanings. However you react, poetry effects you. I have favorites for different moods. One I cherish most is entitled “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats.
As you read this poem, let the words act as a paintbrush, drawing the scenes in your mind. Let your imagination flow with it. Feel the desire, the longing, the wish for a simpler life in a simpler place. In our own busy, hurried lives, full of people and things demanding our time and attention, Yeats offers us a chance to escape.
The Lake Isle Of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Wow, that ending. The whole poem paints this beautiful picture in my mind’s eye of the most peaceful, soothing place on Earth. But, that ending. It encompasses such a depth of heartfelt longing. I know that longing; I’ve felt it in my life before. So, when I close my eyes, I’m the one standing on the pavements grey. I’m the one hearing it, feeling it, in the deep heart’s core.
Yeats was inspired by transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”, published in 1854, which his father read to him as a child. He wanted to imitate Thoreau by living on the uninhabited island of Innisfree, in County Sligo, Ireland. He was born in Ireland, then his family moved to London when he was two years old. However, he often took trips back to Sligo, where his mother’s family lived, and had a great love for the area. Innisfree means “Heather Island”, which is why it is thought that Yeats’ reference to “purple glow” meant heather reflecting in the water. Lovely.
Perhaps that’s what I see in this poem that pulls me so much. I’ve always enjoyed Thoreau’s “Walden”, myself; the personal introspection, simple living, self-sufficiency, and living in harmony with nature. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Yeats’ poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is written in a yearning voice, a desire to experience the life and feelings evoked by “Walden”. That yearning, longing for something meaningful outside of ourselves, speaks to me.
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” was written in 1888, when Yeats was 23, and was first published in his second poetry collection, The Rose. It is an example of his early lyric style, a form of poetry reflecting his Irish roots. Yeats wrote the poem while he was living in London, a large urban area that left him homesick for the rural beauty he lovingly depicts in his poem.
In his autobiography Yeats identifies the poem as a significant one. He states, “I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree…and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem Innisfree, my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music”.
Yeats’ music is still beautiful.
Linda Williams Stirling