|William Butler Yeats
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 honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the crickets sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnets' wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake 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.
Yeats said this poem came to him in a moment one day in 1888. He was standing on a London street, watching a ball balance on a jet water in a shop window. Its sound reminded him of water lapping at the shore of a lake, and suddenly he was overcome with longing for his childhood home in Sligo, in the north of Ireland.
This is one of the first poems I ever learned by heart, decades ago. I have said it to myself, to lovers lying beside me and to babies resisting sleep; I've said it trudging through snow, sitting on beaches and wending my way through the New York subways.
Yeats's rhythms and imagery are so subtle--both insistent and delicate--that I can't imagine ever forgetting the poem or tiring of it. It yields to many interpretations: it can be said wistfully or with passionate anticipation; it can be read so as to progress from the one to the other as its stanzas unfold. Try saying it every day for a week, and its music will be indelibly printed on your mind.
If someone asked me what distinguishes poetry from prose, I'd recite these dozen radiant lines of longing.
- Yeats reads "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"
- Celebrating Yeats's 150th birthday in 2015
- Cyril Cusack reads the poem
- More about the poem's history
- Overview of Yeats' poetry from the Poetry Foundation
|This is the landscape in Sligo that Yeats was thinking of.