Monday, August 19, 2013

The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats / A Thing of Beauty

William Butler Yeats
by Piri MacDonald

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1865. He wished to start an Irish literary revival, and to that end he produced a large body of work. Earlier in his career he predominantly wrote plays, but as time went on he focused more and more on poetry. In 1923, he was the first Irishman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Yeats wrote "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" in 1888, and it was first published in 1890. (In 1890, Tchaikovsky's ballet Sleeping Beauty debuts in Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismisses Minister President Bismarck, and the Wounded Knee Massacre takes place in South Dakota) For further information, see William Butler Yeats.

The Lake of Isle 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.


In this poem, Yeats champions the rural life. While nothing is mentioned of urban life until the end, the attraction of rural life is its contrast with urban life. Notice how what Yeats emphasizes stands in implicit contrast to what he will spell out at the end with "While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey."

  • Small, rough cabin vs. large, finished house/complex
  • Animals and plants vs. machines and traffic
  • Solitude vs. crowds
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
All of which culminates in peace, a peace most typified by the lapping of the lake waters. Take a second, close out the noises around you, and imagine nothing but the small waves lapping on a lake shore. It's soothing, am I right? Yeats does an excellent job of using concrete, particular images to communicate his message. After all, it's not bean rows that he wants, it's nine bean rows.


If anyone has ever told you how to read a poem, they probably told you not to emphasize the meter or rhyme. While that can be a good way to read a poem, my thinking was challenged by Yeats's reading of his own poem. In the following video, Yeats introduces "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by mentioning why he hates the prosaic reading of his (and it would seem most) poetry. What do you think about reading poetry?


I am indebted to Sparksnotes and Youtube for much of my material, and because I think poetry is best read on paper, I recommend The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.

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