William Yeats – The Lake Isle of Innisfree


Yeats Poem - Lake Isle of Innisfree

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 honey-bee,
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.

The Inspiration for the Poem

The Lake Isle of Innisfree was written in 1888, when Yeats was only 23 years old, and initially published in “The National Observer” newspaper in 1890. It was subsequently released in book form in The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1892).  The following year, 1893, it was included in The Rose collection.

The name ‘Innisfree’ is an anglicisation of the Irish term ‘Inis Fraoch’  which means “heather island”. Innisfree is to be found near the southern shore of Lough Gill, in County Sligo, Ireland. The poet craves to leave the fast-paced world behind and get back to a much simpler existence.

Yeats found the inspiration for the poem when he worked in Fleet Street. He reflects:

William Butler Yeats
I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street, very home-sick, 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…..

It’s the only poem of mine which is very widely known.

When I was a young lad in the town of Sligo I read Thoreau’s essays and wanted to live in a hut on an island in Lough Gill called Innisfree, which means ‘Heather Island.’

I wrote the poem in London when I was about twenty-three. One day in The Strand I heard a little tinkle of water and saw in a shop window a little jet of water balancing a ball on the top. It was an advertisement, I think, for cooling drinks. But it set me thinking of Sligo and lake water.

I think there is only one obscurity in the poem. I speak of noon as a ’purple glow.’ I must have meant by that the reflection of heather in the water.

Sources: Irish Society, 10th February 1923; and speaking before a reading on 4th October 1932

Some Notes

‘Wattle’ is a composite building method used for making walls and buildings, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called ‘wattle’ is daubed with a sticky substance, usually made of some form of wet soil.

‘Common linnet’. The common linnet is a little bird belonging to the finch family, Fringillidae. The bird has a fondness for hemp seeds and flax seeds.  ‘Flax’ is the English name for the plant from which linen is made.

Reviews

“The Lake Island of Innisfree,” will some day, I trust, be known to all Irish children, well to Irish men and women.

Flag of Ireland – Saturday 3rd September 1892

Mr. William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin in 1866, but was educated at Sligo, where be spent the whole of his youth. Returning to Dublin on the attainment of manhood, he devoted himself to literature, and subsequently gravitated to London, where he has already won for himself a prominent place in the republio of letters. A number of volumes, dealing chiefly with Irish legendary lore, have been issued from his pen since 1888, in which year he first made his appearance as an author, with a volume entitled “Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.”

Newcastle Chronicle – Saturday 30 March 1895

A dinner was given on Thursday, 11th May 1899, in Dublin to the promoters and friends of the Irish Literary Theatre. George Moore, referring’ to Yeats, whose drama,”The Countess Kathleen” has been produced at the theatre this week, said Ireland had a poet who compared for a moment with the great poet whom it was his honour to speak that night.

The works of Yeats were not as yet, and probably never would be, as voluminous as those of either Shakespeare or Victor Hugo, but he could not admit that they were less perfect. In the art of writing a blank-verse play none except Shakespeare and Yeats had succeeded. We must not be afraid of praising Mr Yeats’s poetry too much; we must not hesitate to say there were lyrics in the collected poems as beautiful as any in the world.

We must insist that the lyric entitled “Innisfree” was unsurpassable.

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette – Saturday 13th May 1899

Mr George Moore is a thoroughgoing admirer of Yeats. said yesterday that the art of writing a blank verse play none except Shakespeare and Mr Yeats had succeeded. We must not be afraid of praising Yeats’ poetry too much; we must not hesitate to say that there were lyrics in the collected poemis as beautiful any in the world. We must insist that the lyric entitled “Innisfree” was unsurpassable.

Hull Daily Mail – Friday 12 May 1899

 

A trip to the Lake Isle of Innisfree

 

 

Trudger

"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

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