The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Writers often create worlds for the reader to inhabit. Nonfiction can do this as well as fiction. The only requirement is that the writing be vivid.

In this poem, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) does this, but does something else as well. More about that below. First, here is the poem itself:

The 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 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 gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

This is a young man’s poem, written when Yeats was just twenty-three and under the spell of the American writer Henry David Thoreau, especially Thoreau’s great book, Walden. I remember finding the poem in a Yeats anthology on my shelf. It immediately became a favorite of mine, but I had no idea that it had been highly popular in Yeats’s lifetime (much to his annoyance, according to the poem’s Wikipedia page).

Of course Yeats never did move to such a place as Innisfree, or live a solitary life. Does that mean the poem was insincere? Of course not.

What I like about this poem is that, though it’s as vivid a portrayal as you could hope for in so few lines, it isn’t really about Innisfree. It’s about the longing. Who hasn’t had such a wish from time to time, when life is feeling too crowded? Who hasn’t imagined themselves in some other place, some other life that would in some way be simpler? (Perhaps with nine bean rows!)

In all the years I’ve known about this poem, until just now I never checked to see if Innisfree is even a real place. (Turns out it is: It’s one of the islands in Lough Gill, Ireland.) But in the context of the poem, it doesn’t matter whether it’s real or not. The point isn’t necessarily to go there (though I might, if I ever get to Ireland), but to “hear lake water lapping… /While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray.”


Innisfree. Via Wikimedia Commons


2 thoughts on “The Lake Isle of Innisfree

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