The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats

Written in 1888, The Lake Isle of Innisfree is one of William Butler Yeats’ most celebrated poems. The poem consists of 12 lines, separated into three quatrains, and an abab cdcd efef rhyme scheme.


Summary of Poem

The speaker in The Lake Isle of Innisfree spends most of the poem deep inside a daydream. He speaks of Innisfree in an idealistic way, describing the almost magical qualities of the different times of day, and the unbroken solitude and peace he will achieve once he goes. The speaker within this piece relates peace directly to nature and throughout the poem.  It is revealed by the end that the speaker dreams so intently about reaching Innisfree because he lives in environment that does not contain the natural elements that are critical to his happiness.


The Lake Isle of Innisfree Analysis

The poem begins with this first stanza:

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.

The speaker begins by telling the reader of his intentions, he will, “arise and go now,” to the isle of Innisfree. In this first line, the word “go” is repeated twice, the Yeats made this choice to provide special emphasis on the importance of the speaker’s action. The speaker is determined, he must, and will, go to Innisfree. The second line provides additional details as to what he is going to do when he gets there. He plans to create a “small” home for himself. The use of the word “small” in this line gives the impression that he is going to be the only one living in the house, without any family or relations of any kind. He plans to build the cabin from clay and wattles (sticks and rods). Once he’s living in his small cabin, he dreams of having “nine” rows of bean plants and a hive for presumably, many honeybees, as in the next line, the glade (or small clearing in a forest), is filled with their sound.

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.

 The second quatrain, provides the reader with the reasoning behind his desire to travel to Innisfree: to find some peace. This stanza also contains the important metaphorical relationship that Yeats sets up between the notion of peace and nature. He describes peace as “dropping slow,” “from the veils of…morning to…the cricket[s].” Yeats relates peace to morning dew. In the glade he will be surrounded by it, from the leaves on the trees, to the grass on the ground, “where the cricket sings.” Continuing on, the poet describes three more times of day and the magical qualities they possess on the lake isle of Innisfree. The imagery calls up sequences that further emphasize the importance of the daydream to the speaker, midnight “glimmer[s],” noontime glows purple, and the evening is full of the beating of “linnet’s wings” (a small brown and gray finch, with a reddish-brown breast).

The third and final quatrain proceeds as follows:

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.

It is at this point in the poem that the speaker shakes himself out of his daydream in which he has described the scenes on the lake isle of Innisfree, and begins to address the real world. Once again he states he is going to leave for the isle, reinforcing the importance of the other uses of “go” in the first quatrain. This constant repetition of the action of leaving his home to create a new one, presents the question of, is he actually ever going to go? Has this dream been something he is now going to realize or does it only exist in his mind? These questions remain pertinent as the poem concludes.

Related poetry:   No Second Troy by William Butler Yeats

Yeats continues the stanza by telling the reader that the speaker hears the water lapping at the shore all day and night. This dream has become a mantra, it is an obsession that has come to haunt him, and it is no more prevalent than when he “stand[s] on the roadway, or on the pavements grey.” It is now evident that the speaker is wishing to escape a world that is antithetical to his ideas of peace and happiness. It seems that the speaker lives in a city, or at least somewhere in which he is surrounded by roads and pavements, both of which are not classical manifestations of nature.

The poem concludes on a very somber note. The poem’s last line, “I hear it in the deep heart’s core” refers to the sounds of the waves lapping on the shore. The haunting images of the lake isle of Innisfree are heard not in his head but in his heart. The reader is left with unanswered questions regarding the reality of the speaker’s plan to, “go now, and go to Innisfree.” Will the speaker ever make it from his current home to the peace he needs to achieve happiness? Or will he remain in his city or town, stuck in a  fantasy daydream he will never realize?


Form of the Poem

The form of this poem is clear through the straightforward formatting of the quatrains and rhyme schemes, but when a closer look is taken small schemes and formatting decisions reveal what has made this poem a classic. Two instances in the last stanza are prime examples.  The alliteration that is found on line two of quatrain three, “I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.” When this poem is read aloud, the repeated use of the letter “l” creates an auditory motion that is reminiscent of the waves the line is describing.  Additionally, in the line that comes directly after, “While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,” Yeats has chosen not only to rhyme the ending word of this line, “grey” with the ending word, “day,” but has also allowed a rhyme to exist within the line itself; “grey,” rhyming with “roadway.”


About William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats, more commonly known as, W.B. Yeats, was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1865.  He was educated in London and was an instrumental figure in the defining years of the 19th century. Yeats wrote both poetry and plays, his early plays were focused mainly on interpreting Irish legends and his own personal spiritual beliefs.  Later in his life, after 1910, his work took a turn, becoming more experimental and poetical. He became to create work that presented his anti-Nationalist views, and he was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1922. He would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. During the last 16 years of his life, from 1923-1939, Yeats published a number of volumes of poetry, containing what is now considered his best work.

During the decade in which Yeats wrote, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, Ireland was in the midst of significant financial struggles. It is possible that Yeats cast himself as the speaker in this poem; considering that Innisfree is an actual place, on Lough Gill in County Sligo, Western Ireland, and that when he was a boy Yeats’ family visited County Sligo.

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