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.
WB Yeats (1888)
You can hear a recording of Yeats reading the poem in 1936 and 1937 on the University of Pennsylvania’s website. This isn’t how I imagine it in my head. Yeats haunting rendition does not portray the rural idyll I imagine and the sense of escapism. It feels much more like death and heaven.
I don’t know why I have an affinity with this poem. I was reading some poetry books for inspiration for the cultural consumption task to ‘find a poem that means something to you’ and I found The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. I felt that I knew the words already and I was transported into the story – I know that feeling of standing in a city centre wishing for some quiet and different.
It’s really interesting that the poem was written in 1888 amongst the progress of modernity, but the sentiments ring as true today. Our cities have never been bigger and England is now the most crowded part of Europe and as a result many of us seek or dream of the good life. I find it really relatable and modern.
In the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, a footnote contains a brief passage from Yeats’ autobiography which explains more about how he got his idea for the poem.
“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 homesick 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.”
I don’t know how I know this poem, it is perhaps for the gruelling teenage years I spent attending elocution lessons (for my own good I was told; to rid me of my rural Ballymena accent, improve my issues with speech (which I know now as being diagnosed as an adult were related to my dyslexia and dyspraxia), and help me overcome my shyness by making be recite poems and pros in front of groups of other young people (yay!)). It is little wonder that a poem about being anywhere else but where you are, in your own utopia, has then stuck with me.
This poem relates to my own arts practice as it has the unique sense of place that I try to portray in my photography work. It also focusses on a more natural environment which I too am drawn too.
I wish I had time to illustrate this poem but unfortunately I don’t as other uni work needs to take priority right now. Maybe, on the Isle on Innisfree I would have the time?