Skip to main content
Updated date:

William Butler Yeats’ "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

Introduction and Text of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

William Butler Yeats tells of the genesis of his pastoral poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree": he was walking through Fleet Street in the West End of London, when he spied a little shop window. On a jet of water, a ball was balancing, and the water reminded him of the lake in Sligo, the beloved Irish county of his childhood.

The sight rendered his homesickness even more intense. He explains that at this point in his life he entertained the goal of building a Thoreauvian cabin on the island. He remarks that the poem came from that memory of his desire to live on Innisfree.

The poet had been experimenting with a loose rhythm, attempting to divorce his verse from other types of rhetoric. He had determined that he needed to use ordinary syntax without elevated, stylized language. He asserted that a few years after the composition of his poem, he would not have employed such a "conventional archaism" as "arise and go." He also would never had employed the inversion that he had done in the final stanza.

Composed of three innovative stanzas with the rime-scheme, ABABCDCDEFEF, with an irregular but mesmerizing rhythm, the poem offers a peaceful atmosphere that the speaker creates as he dreams of building a quiet little Thoreauvian cabin where he will live out his days in serenity and simplicity.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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 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.

Yeats reading his "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

Yeats’ Reading Style

About reading his poems aloud, Yeats has warned that he would be reading his poem "with great emphasis upon their rhythm." He confesses that his style may appear to be odd to those who are hearing him read for the first time.

Yeats then relates a memory of the English poet, William Morris, whom Yeats encountered walking out of a lecture hall. Morris became enraged by a shoddy reading of a passage from his Sigurd the Volsung; he complained, "it gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get that thing into verse." So he was angered that the reader had failed to respect the piece as poetry rather than prose.

Thus, Yeats determined that he would not read his pieces as prose because like Morris, "It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I am going to read." His great emphasis respects the reading as poem not just a mere piece of informative text.

Listening to such a dramatic reading is likely to give the poem a new shine of specialness; Yeats felt that prose worked under a duller sheen, and thus his reading style demonstrates clearly that he assigned greater drama to poetry.

Commentary

The speaker becomes very specific as claims he will have "[n]ine bean-rows"; his bucolic island paradise will afford him a peaceful life, as he opines, creating a pastoral portrait of a blissful, quite life.

First Stanza: Seeking a Life of Peace

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.

The speaker reports his intention to get up and set forth on his journey to the island of "Innisfree." He announces his plan to construct a "small cabin" of materials from his immediate environment.

Read More From Owlcation

He very specifically determines to have "[n]ine bean-rows"; he will also maintain a beehive "for the honey-bee." And he insists he will live alone. His dreamy goal is appealing and offers solace to the crowd-heavy, business-stressed heart and mind.

Second Stanza: Peace Will Come Slow

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.

In the second stanza, the speaker announces with determination that he will, indeed, "have some peace there." But still peace will overtake him slowly, like drops of water from a dewy morning that hangs in veils. The water dripping image and morning veils exist "where the cricket sings."

But at midnight everything will seem to "glimmer" as opposed to the "purple glow" of noon. His evenings will be filled with watching birds fly off in all directions. Thus, he has continued to paint a pastoral portrait of his new life, founded on peace with the assistance of natural phenomena.

Third Stanza: Listening with the Heart

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 third stanza finds the speaker still only dreaming about his peaceful life on Innisfree. Even as he claims again that he "will arise and go," he returns to his current living situation where "night and day" he can hear the water lapping the shore.

The speaker has not yet journeyed forth to his island paradise, but instead, he is standing "on the roadway" or "on the pavements" listening to those lapping waters. And those waters touch him deeply; he is listening not only with ears but from the depth of his heart.

He implies that he will keep his wish to one day arise and go build a simple, little cabin, growing his own beans and practicing bee-keeping. He will continue to hope that he will one day feel that peace come over him like droplets of water cascading from the veils of dewey mornings, while listening to crickets.

He will continue to watch for the glimmer of midnight as well as the purple glow of noontide. And he will listen with hungry ears that feed his very heart’s core with the nostalgic sound of lapping waters upon the shore of the lake—upon the very shore of his soul that yearns for peace and harmony that only nature and solitude can bring.

Innisfree Island in Lough Gill

Innisfree Island in Lough Gill

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 21, 2021:

Nice to hear from you again, Patricia. Yes, Yeats is a master poet on many levels. His works add much brilliance and drama to the world of poetry. His little drama about the aspiration to live on the Lake Isle offers a unique view of the universal desire for peace, harmony, and balance in life.

Congrats on your own bean rows and bumble bees. Our beans climb up thin cords, makes picking them easier than bending over the bush-style. Having a vegetable garden is a blessing.

Thank you for sending the angels. Sending back many blessings and good wishes to you and yours!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 21, 2021:

Thank you for sharing...had not read of his Innisfree. I am enthralled by his poetry and that of many others as it is a form of composition that escapes me. I have my bean rows no honeybees but bumble bees aplenty!! Angels are headed your way this morning. ps

Related Articles