‘The Lake Isle’ is a two stanza poem that speaks on the same themes as ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W.B. Yeats. Pound explores themes of life, work, and the purpose of both in this short poem. The tone is wistful as the speaker looks into a life that could be his if only he could get away from his current profession.
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Summary of The Lake Isle
The poem begins with the speaker asking the gods, as he does multiple times in the text, to give him something. This time it is a tobacco shop. This simple building and business represent something larger in the poem—a freedom and escape from the bustling modern world of endless commerce and industrial advancement.
As the poem progresses Pound’s speaker asks for other things, many of which would obviously be contained within his shop. In conclusion, the speaker who has begun to sound more and more like Pound himself, asks that the gods do something, anything, to remove him from his “damn’d profession of writing”.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of The Lake Isle
‘The Lake Isle’ by Ezra Pound is a two stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first contains twelve lines and the second: five. Pound, as was his habit as an Imagist poet, did not make use of a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
Imagism was a literary movement of the early 20th century. The proponents and participants, of whom Pound was the leader, were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language. Rather than a broad swath of writers from around the world transitioning into a new way of writing, the imagist movement was small and only included a few writers who were dealing with important principles that would set out the groundwork for the next decades of development.
Aside from using language that was more to the point, imagists rejected the sentimental themes and traditional styles of Romantic and Georgian poets. Instead, they made use of free verse. This is a kind of poetic writing that does not utilize a pattern of rhyme or rhythm. But, that doesn’t mean the poems are without the use of figurative language.
Poetic Techniques in The Lake Isle
Despite being written in free verse, Pound makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Lake Isle’. These include but are not limited to imagery, alliteration, apostrophe, and enjambment. Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. Pound creates a number of interesting images, such as that of the tobacco shop in the first stanza.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “bright boxes” in the third line of the first stanza and “shelves” and “shag” in lines four and six of the first stanza.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines seven and eight of the first stanza and that between lines three and four of the second stanza.
Analysis of The Lake Isle
O God, O Venus, O Mercury, patron of thieves,
Give me in due time, I beseech you, a little tobacco-shop,
And the loose fragment cavendish
and the shag,
In the first lines of ‘The Lake Isle,’ the speaker uses a technique known as apostrophe to address God, Venus, and Mercury. Apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone who does not exist or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words.
These gods, all of which may or may not be looking over the speaker as asked for something specific, “a little tobacco shop”. This is a simple thing, but to the speaker, it is everything that he wants. It is a symbol of a new kind of life. A life that is devoid of the mental work that he currently has to engage in. Pound’s image of the tobacco shop is a clear one. He depicts its shelves and creates a whole atmosphere for the store.
And the bright Virginia
loose under the bright glass cases,
And the votailles dropping in for a word or two in passing,
For a flip word, and to tidy their hair a bit.
In the second half of this stanza of ‘The Lake Isle’, he speaks about the glass cases and the “pair of scales”. These little items seem unimportant. To the speaker though, they are part of a daydream, one that has much larger implications for this life. In the eleventh line, he speaks of the “votailles”. It is unclear who is he referring to hear, but they drop in, pass by, and “tidy their hair”.
O God, O Venus, O Mercury, patron of thieves,
where one needs one’s brains all the time.
In the final two five lines of ‘The Lake Isle,’ it becomes clear that the speaker is a writer. So, likely, it is Pound himself. He is asking for this tobacco shop from any of the gods who are listening in order to get out of “this damn’d profession of writing”. One “needs one’s brains all the time” in it. These lines come across as both humorous and depending on how one reads them, sarcastic. Is Pound musing on what it would be like to escape his profession? Or is he commenting on the strains of the profession on other people?