Lake Isle of Innisfree
"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" is a poem written by William Butler Yeats in 1888. The poem was published first in the National Observer in 1890 and reprinted in The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics in 1892. One of Yeats's earlier poems, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" was an attempt 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. The poem, unlike many others from the era, does not contain direct references to mysticism and the occult. It received critical success in the United Kingdom and France.
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When Yeats was a child, his father had read to him from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and Yeats described his inspiration for the poem by saying that while he was a teenager, he wished to imitate Thoreau by living on Innisfree, an uninhabited island in Lough Gill. He suggests that when he was living in London, he would walk down Fleet Street and long for the seclusion of a pastoral setting such as the isle. The sound of water coming from a fountain in a shop window reminded Yeats of the lake that he had previously seen, and it is this inspiration that Yeats credits for the creation of the poem.
In his youth, Yeats would visit the land at Lough Gill at night, often accompanied by his cousin Henry Middleton. On one occasion, they went out onto the lake at night on a yacht to observe birds and to listen to stories by the crew. The trips that Yeats took from the streets of Sligo to the remote areas around the lake set up for him the contrasting images of the city and nature that appear in the poem's text.
The twelve-line poem is divided into three quatrains and is an example of Yeats’s earlier lyric poems. Throughout the three short quatrains the poem explores the speaker’s longing for the peace and tranquility of Innisfree while residing in an urban setting. The speaker in this poem yearns to return to the island of Innisfree because of the peace and quiet it affords. He can escape the noise of the city and be lulled by the "lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore." On this small island, he can return to nature by growing beans and having bee hives, by enjoying the "purple glow" of noon, the sounds of birds' wings, and, of course, the bees. He can even build a cabin and stay on the island much as Thoreau, the American Transcendentalist, lived on Walden Pond. During his lifetime it was—to his annoyance—one of his most popular poems and on one occasion was recited (or sung) in his honor by two (or ten—accounts vary) thousand boy scouts.
A musical setting of this poem is featured in DUBLIN 1916, An Irish Oratorio and YEATS SONGS, a song cycle, both composed by Richard B. Evans. (published by Seacastle Music Company, 1995). Seattle, WA band Fleet Foxes mentions the Isles of Innisfree in many other songs including 'The Shrine/An Argument', 'Isles' and 'Bedouin Dress'. American composer Ben Moore has also composed a setting of the poem. Another musical setting is featured in Branduardi canta Yeats (published by Edizioni Musicali Musiza, 1986), composed and played by Angelo Branduardi on translation of Luisa Zappa. Michael McGlynn of the Irish group Anúna arranged this as a choral piece: a "recording" of it is featured on Anúna's album Invocation. Composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo set this text to music in a piece called "The Lake Isle." Popular settings of the poem have been done by Judy Collins and the Dream Brothers. Australian musician Paul Kelly performs a version on his 2013 album "Conversations with Ghosts". Shusha Guppy recorded an unaccompanied version on her album 'This is the Day' (United Artist Records, 1974).
In other media
In the finale episode of the fourth season of the Fox science-fiction drama television series Fringe entitled Brave New World (Part 2), Dr. William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) narrates the first stanza of the poem, alluding to his plans of collapsing the two universes into a new world where he plays God.
In the film Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood, Frankie Dunn (portrayed by Eastwood) reads the first two quatrains to Margaret Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) at the hospital after a fight where her neck has broken.
In the climactic scene from the film Three And Out, Tommy recites the poem just before he gets hit by the train.
- Kenner, Hugh. "The Conquest of English". A Colder Eye.Johns Hopkins University Press 1983 p.51
- Jochum,Klaus Peter. "The Reception of W.B. Yeats in France". The Reception of W.B. Yeats in Europe. Continuum 2006 p.33
- Jeffares, Alexander Norman. W.B. Yeats: Man and Poet. Macmillan 1962 pp21–23
- Yeats, William Butler. Autobiographies. London: Macmillan 1955, p.153
- R. F Foster: W. B. Yeats, A Life. Vol. 1. The apprentice Mage