The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats
The Lake Isle of Innisfree was written in 1890 and first published in the National Observer. Innisfree is an island near his native place Sligo (Ireland) where W. B. Yeats had thought of retiring to steep his troubled mind in the solitude of nature, like the American writer Thoreau whose Walden was the chief inspiration behind this romantic dream. Later on, while he was in London he one day caught sight of a London shop window where a little ball was dancing on a jet of water. This sight reminded him of the enchanted island and inspired him to write the poem. Yeats himself writes in his Autobiographies:
“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…….”
The Lake Isle of Innisfree Summary
The poet will go to Innisfree, a little enchanted island in Lough Gill Sligo. He will build there a small hut of clay and wattles. He will cultivate land to grow nine rows of bean, keep a bee-hive for honey and live alone in the clearing resonant with the hum of bees.
He will have there the peace of mind he long longs for. This peace will slowly and imperceptibly descend on his mind from the silence, solitude and natural charms of the dreamy island like dews falling imperceptibly from the sky and settling on the grass. The song of the cricket will regale his ears in the morning. He will feast his eyes on the charming beauty of Innisfree at midnight when it looks like a fairyland with the light of the moon and stars glimmering through the mist. At noon the sun casts a purple glow (dull light) on the island, which invests it with a romantic charm. The flutter of the wings of the linnet returning home in the evening produces a musical sound that thrills his mind with heavenly pleasure.
The poet will go to Innisfree without delay, because he hears, day and night, the lake beating on the shore and making gentle, splashing sounds. He even hears the murmur of the lake (water) in the innermost recess of his heart while he stands on the busy roadway or on the macadam pavement of London. The call of the murmur of the lake is irresistible to him. So he must arise and go to Innisfree.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree Theme
The recurring theme of the poem is the close affinity of human being towards Nature and natural phenomena. In the The Lake Isle of Innisfree the poet is tired of city life and he wants to spend rest of his life amidst nature. He believes that nature will provide him peace, stress-free, carefree life which will be present in the lake Isle of Innisfree. The call of Innisfree is irresistible to him. The poet will cultivate beans and keep a bee-hive for honey He will pass his days enjoying the charms and beauties of nature-twinkling of dews on the grass, chirping of cricket, the midnight’s glimmer, the sun’s purple glow at noon, the music produced by the flutter of the wings of linnets and the murmur of the lake water washing the shore.
One should build his dream home close to nature. Living close to Nature will give soothing effect to the troubled soul.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree Analysis
The Lake Isle of Innisfree is a beautiful lyric. It became popular with its first readers and has retained its popularity till this day.
The poem is remarkable for its autobiographical significance. Innisfree is an island near Yeats’s native place Sligo (Ireland) where he thought of retiring to calm his troubled mind in the solitude of nature like the American writer Thoreau.
As a Romantic Poem
The Lake Isle of Innisfree is a romantic poem. It is built on escapism which is a dominant characteristic of romantic poetry. In the poem the poet longs to escape from the dismal and ugly realities of city life to the island of Innisfree, an ideal land of beauty. He thinks that away from the din and bustle of London he will find some peace in his anxiety-free life in the Innisfree cottage and the charming natural sights and sounds of the place. The poet’s attitude to nature is like that of Wordsworth who feels that nature ministers help and encouragement, and supplies a perpetual fund of strength to minds perplexed by earthly cares.
As a Poem of Nature
The poem also gives vivid and colourful pictures of nature. These pictures are sensuous. They gratify our senses of sight and hearing. The mist covered morning. (“the veils of the morning’), the light of the moon and stars glimmering through mist at midnight (midnight’s all a-glimmer’), the purple glow of the sun at noon noon a purple glow”) feast our eyes, while the song of the cricket, in the morning, the musical flutter of the wings of the linnet returning home in the evening, and the continual murmur of the lake water washing the shore regale our ears.
Blend of Realism and Romanticism
Though the poem is romantic, it is charged with the poet’s awareness of realism. Indeed it is a fine blend of realism and romantic escapism. The line “And I shall have some peace there” suggests Yeats’s keen sensitiveness to the inadequacies of reality, its conflicts and machinations. Yeats’s Utopia is not as airy as R. L. Stevenson suggests in a letter. Innisfree is an actual island in Lough Gill, Sligo (Ireland). Thus while the evocative images and picturesque words and epithets and the lingering rhythm combine together to convey a dream-laden ecstasy, the Irish background gives it a certain contact with reality.
Use of Effective Imagery
The poem is remarkable for the effective use of images. The images of a hut of clay and wattles, nine bean rows, bee-hive, mist, midnight’s glimmer, the songs of the cricket and the musical flutter of the wings of the linnet in the evening, and the murmur of the lake water suggest an atmosphere of peace and tranquility and evoke a picture of an enchanted land. On the other hand, the images of the roadway and gray pavements suggest the fever and the fret of the city life. The images are picturesque like those of Keats and Tennyson.
Style and Tone
The poem is remarkable for the simplicity of its style and its musical quality. Its peculiar music is the outcome of the skilful manipulation of vowel and consonant sounds. In “lake water lapping with low sounds” the emphatic ‘p’ sound brings the full impact of the water-sound to one’s ears. while in peace comes dropping slow we catch something of the actual movement, steady but prolonged, of the peace descending from the sky to the earth. The poem arrests our attention with its condensed, gem-like phrases and expressions such as ‘bee-loud glade’, ‘noon a purple glow’ ‘evening of the linnet’s wings’. The skilful interweaving of long and short lines adds to the poem’s rhythmical felicity.
The ever-continuing appeal of the poem is largely due to its careful rhythmical structure. Yeats frees himself from the metrical regularity he has previously observed and gives attention mainly to securing a rhythmical basis which should allow scope for natural speech-stress and also for the general maintenance of natural word-order. He makes some use of repetition but little of inversion. There is no rigid syllabic structure, the number of syllables in a line ranging from eight to fifteen :
“Nine / bean/rows/will/I/have/ there /a/hive / for / the /ho-/ ney/bee (14)
And / live / a-/ lone / in / the / bee-/ loud / glade” (9)
The judicious use of alliteration and sibilants does much to heighten the emotional effect of the poem. Prosodically the poem is a throw-back to Anglo-Saxon poetry; semantically it is the expression of an archetypal desire.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree Analysis line by line
Innisfree : Innisfree is an actual island near WB Yeats’s native place Lough Gill, Sligo where he thought of retiring to steep his troubled mind and soul in the solitude of nature like the American writer, Thoreau whose Walden was the inspiration behind this Arcadian dream.
cabin: small hut usually made of wood.
wattles : structure of sticks or twigs woven under and over thicker upright sticks, used for fences, walls etc.
bean: smooth, usually kidney-shaped seed used as a vegetable.
Nine : Nine is a mystic number bean
rows : rows of bean plants.
hive: (= also bee-hive) artificial habitation for bees,
honey-bee : ordinary type of bee that lives in hives,
alone : Yeats longs to live alone in the clearing of the island, resonant with the hum of bees,
bee-loud glade: It is one of those felicitous and sensuous expressions that waken in us the longing for escaping to the island,
bee-loud : resonant with the humming of bees.
some peace : some amount of peace. The poet is disgusted with the continuous loud confused noise in crowded cities like London. So he longs to escape to a solitary place where he could have some peace.
peace comes dropping slow: when the poet will retire to the isle of Innisfree, far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, peace will slowly and imperceptibly come to him.
Dropping from the veils of the morning : Dews fall from the sky all night and twinkle on the grass in the morning. None can see dews fall from the sky. Peace is like dews. Peace will descend on the poet’s troubled soul from the solitude and silence of the island, and remove the depression of his mind,
the veils of the morning : mist. Morning is compared to a woman who has had her face covered with a veil. A woman blushing with shame covers her face with a veil; likewise, morning glowing with the mellow red colour of sunlight covers her face with mist. Note : Veils of the morning: is a beautiful poetic image. It gives a fine, vivid picture of the mist-covered morning. The picture is sensuous and appeals to our sense of sight strongly.
cricket: a small, brown, jumping insect that makes a shrill sound. The chirping of the cricket adds to the romantic atmosphere. Cf.
“The poetry of earth is ceasing never :
On a long winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The cricket’s song…….”
to where the cricket sings : on the grass where the cricket chirps.
There midnight’s all a-glimmer : In Innisfree the moon and star light glimmers through mist at midnight and invests the isle with a beauty and charm that become a fairyland. Note: This line awakens an irresistible romantic feeling in us and charges us with a passion for an escape to the island bathed in the glimmering moon and star light,
and noon a purple glow : at noon sunlight has the colour of red and blue mixed together. Even at noon when the sun shines brightly, sunlight has the colour that is full of romantic beauty.
And evening full of the linnet’s wings : The evenings in Innisfree are resonant with the musical sound produced by the linnet fluttering its wings in the air. The flutter of the wings of the linnets returning home in the evening produces a sound that is musical and that steeps one’s mind in romantic charm.
linnet: small brown song bird.
I will arise and go now: When Yeats wrote this poem he was in London There he happened to see in a shop-window a little ball dancing on a jet of water. His home-sickness was aroused by this spectacle and the call of the water around the isle made his heart restless,
always night and day : all the twenty four hours.
lapping : beating upon the shore, with low sounds: the murmur produced by the lake water beating on the shore.
lake water lapping……shore : The lake water beating on the shore and making gentle splashing sounds is compared to an animal drinking some liquid by licking.
hear : The poet hears the murmur of the lake water in his imagination Note: In “lake water lapping with low sounds” the emphatic ‘p’ sound brings the full impact of the water-sound to our ears. The alliteration in I in lake, lapping and low helps to produce music,
the roadway: the part of the road used by vehicles, contrasted with the footpath, pavement, pavement gray the pavement of London the surface of which was made of layers of compressed, broken stones. (macadam pavement). Note: The word ‘gray’ is associated with one’s dreariness and depression. Here it suggests Yeats’s dullness and dismalness caused by the hustle and bustle of city life.
I hear it in the deep heart’s core : Yeats hears the murmur produced by the water of the lake in Innisfree in the innermost recess of his mind. He does not, however, hear it with his bodily ears; he imagines to hear it. This line is informed with nostalgia–longing for the things that are distant and past. This nostalgia is a romantic quality (attribute). Note: The third stanza shows the exquisite lyrical quality of W.B.Yeats. It evokes an atmosphere of dreaminess and expresses the poet’s desire to escape from London to the lap of nature in the island of Innisfree.
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2 thoughts on “The Lake Isle of Innisfree | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Line by Line Analysis”
a very helpful analysis for a literature student like me.
Thank you so much