29 January 2009


"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" - I have loved that poem for years and years. It's about leaving the hectic workaday world behind to find some peace and some simplicity - an opportunity to take stock of things in a simple and environmentally friendly home made from clay and "wattles" - strips of wood, especially hazel.

I could explore technical features of the poem, such as its unusual hexameter line construction but I prefer to linger with its meaning. First of all, in one sense, the lake isle really exists and as a boy, the poet, William Yeats, may have actually visited it. It is located in Lough Gill in the county of Sligo in the Republic of Ireland - an area that Yeats knew well all his life. In another sense, the isle doesn't exist - it is just a metaphor, a means of exploring the urge that is in most of us to find a place where we can really "be" - planting our bean rows and perhaps lying down in a grassy clearing to listen to the "bee loud" humming of a summer's day.

The poem is always driving towards the end phrase - "the deep heart's core". This is part of us that customarily we cloak and bury beneath the detritus of everyday living. It is as Emily Bronte reflected, like "the eternal rocks beneath" while we obsess ourselves with what we find on the surface. You have a sense at the end of the poem that the idea of going to Innisfree is only a notion, an unfulfilled urge - Yeats never really gets there. He only hears the lapping of the waters upon its shore deep inside himself, reminding him of the most fundamental human values.

How different is that image of the homemade cabin upon a mythical island in an Irish lake compared with say, apartment living in highrise New York City - the wailing of sirens, the never ending humming of traffic, the vista of concrete and glass. That is no place to tune in to "the deep heart's core".


  1. Absolutely. Which bit? All of it. Thank you YP.

  2. Why pick on New York? London would have done just as well (not that I disagree with you).

  3. You're right, YP. I love the poem and the idea of "the deep heart's core".

  4. Firstly * you must be an excellent literature teacher...

    Secondly * Some people are rooted in cities. I had a friend visit here 20 years ago when this was a tiny coastal town of 6500 people. As he left the Sydney skyline (where he had been born and bred) behind he began to feel anxious. This feeling increased during his time away from the city and he explained it as if the city and its buildings and bustle was his cocoon and comfort....

    So while many of us would choose Innisfree Maybe some need the city.

  5. Thanks for bringing back resonances of my trip to Ireland about 20 years ago when I wandered around clutching a book of poems by W.B Yeats! I *was* able to "arise and go" and now live by my own lapping shores. But your description of New York is a timely reminder of another life.


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