William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” describes a sort of utopia that the narrator wishes to escape to. He wishes to leave the city and go to a remote place where life is simple, the beauty of mother-nature all around. It is a place where one lives off of the land, so consumerism doesn’t exist. Yeats wrote this poem after passing a display on Fleet Street in London. Yeats writes in his autobiography “I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree…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” (2025). This poem was written in 1888, and was published in the “National Observer” in 1890.
Yeats was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. He wanted to imitate Thoreau by living on Innisfree. Yeats attempted “to create a form of poetry that was Irish in origin rather than one that adhered to the standards set by English poets and critics” (Kemer).
Yeats used sounds found in nature (bees, crickets, and water lapping) to make Innisfree appear to be peaceful and tranquil. There is a pause in the middle of the first three lines of every stanza; Yeats does this to slow the reader down, so that they can feel the calm that his lines are expressing. Alliteration is also used in this poem (look at the bolded letters in the poem). It is a lyric poem with three quatrains. It rhyme pattern is abab cdcd efef.
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. (lines 1-4)
Innisfree means Heather Island, and it is an uninhabited island in Lough (Lake) Gill in west Ireland. A wattle is a framework of rods with flexible branches or reeds interlaced used especially in building.
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. (5-8)
In line 6, there is an internal rhyme: dropping, morning, and sings. “All a glimmer” is probably referring to shimmering starlight reflecting on the lake. “Purple glow” is most likely the reflection of heather (a northern and alpine evergreen heath with lavender flowers) in the lake. Linnets are finches, which are tiny seed-eating birds.
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. (9-12)
The “roadway” in line 11 is referring to Fleet Street in London.
Yeats, William Butler. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2006. 2025.
Kemer, Hugh. “The Conquest of English.” A Colder Eye. Johns Hopkins UP, 1983. 51.