Lake Isle of Innisfree
"Lake Isle of Innisfree" is a twelve-line poem composed of three quatrains written by William Butler Yeats in 1888 and first published in the National Observer in 1890. It was reprinted in The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics in 1892 and as an illustrated Cuala Press Broadside in 1932.
"Lake Isle of Innisfree" exemplifies the style of the Celtic Revival: it is 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. It received critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and France.
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The Isle of Innisfree is an uninhabited island within Lough Gill, in Co. Sligo, Ireland, where Yeats spent his summers as a child. Yeats describes the inspiration for the poem coming from a "sudden" memory of his childhood while walking down Fleet Street in London in 1888. He writes, "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 had begun to loosen rhythm as an escape from rhetoric and from that emotion of the crowd that rhetoric brings, but I only understood vaguely and occasionally that I must for my special purpose use nothing but the common syntax. A couple of years later I could not have written that first line with its conventional archaism -- "Arise and go"—nor the inversion of the last stanza."
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, who lived in this manner on Walden Pond. During Yeats's 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. The first quatrain speaks to the needs of the body (food & shelter); the second to the needs of the spirit (peace); the final quatrain is the meeting of the inner life (memory) with the physical world (pavement grey).
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). Muriel Herbert set the poem in 1928. 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.
In the song The Shrine/An Argument by Seattle indie folk band Fleet Foxes Innisfree is mentioned in the song's final lyric: "Carry me to Innisfree like pollen on the breeze". The band also mentions Innisfree in their song Bedouin Dress on the same album, saying frequently: "One day at Innisfree, one day that's mine there" and "Just to be at Innisfree again".
In his LP Branduardi canta Yeats (1986), Angelo Branduardi sings an italian version of this poem.
- 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
- Yeats, William Butler. Autobiographies. London: Macmillan 1955, p.153
- R. F Foster: W. B. Yeats, A Life. Vol. 1. The apprentice Mage