Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lake Isle of Innisfree - William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattle made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-lour 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.

The scene is simple and enchanting: your own personal paradise hermitage on a pristine island in the middle of a lake.  Innisfree is a real place, situated in Loch Gile.  While it is true that Yeats wanted to establish an inherently Irish form, and to break away from English cultural fetters in the realm of the poetry, I do not think the actual location of the island is of much consequence today.  For sure, it mattered to Yeats that the poem expressed a longing for an Irish pastoral scene, but I think it has resonance far beyond that.

Who among us has not felt some desire to return to nature?  The escape to a countryside cottage, the trip to the lake, camping in the woods.  These are all very desirable leisure activities in the modern age.  For me personally, this poem may as well be about Lake George in the Adirondacks in upstate New York.  There is no better place to which one can escape, I think, and for me, when I read this poem, that is where my mind goes.

The last stanza is something to which I think everyone can relate.  Deep within our hearts, we long for, even "hear" the sound of our desired paradise, our retreat, our Innisfree.  Yeats feels compelled to go because "night and day/ I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore" even when he is "on the roadway, or on the pavements grey."  He hears it "in the deep heart's core."  This place is the call of his heart, his pure desire.

Apart from the (I hope) universal sentiment of the poem, the imagery itself is wondrous.  Self-sufficiency with your own food and honey, shimmering midnight scenes, dew-drop mornings, evening filled with the wings of small birds.  Even writing this now, despite living in a lovely countryside area of Korea, I feel myself longing for the tall pines and clear waters of Lake George.  These images root in your mind and transform, speaking to that small part of each of us which seeks autonomy and peace in nature.  I hope you are thinking of your personal Innisfree, reader.

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