I found this week’s introduction to Irish poetry to be such an intriguing and wonderful experience. Yeats’s various poems vividly describe important historical events from an Irish point of view. As a reader, we come to understand things like the post-war atmosphere of Europe after World War I and the Easter Rising of 1916. In addition to depicting history, Yeats’s poems also revolve around themes of spirituality, bravery, nature, and nationalism. It is important to note that some of his poems exemplify the style of the Celtic Revival – a movement whose purpose was to create literature that was rooted in Celtic origins instead of English ones. Out of all of his poems, the one that stood out to me the most was The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Below is my virtual journey to Innisfree.
“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning…”W. B. Yeats The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1890)
The picture above is one of the few pictures taken of Innisfree. Finding pictures of Innisfree was actually quite difficult, sites like Google Maps and 360cities had no visual records of this island. The few pictures and paintings I was able to find are just like the one above, from a distance. I would have loved to see a picture of the island’s landscape up close. Nonetheless, this picture is absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. My favorite thing about this picture is the sky, I love how the colors blend and how that image is reflected in the water. I feel like the beauty of this landscape is greatly enhanced when the greenery is a dark green shade. Another thing I really like is the balance, there is a perfect amount of open space, water, and greenery, with no aspect overpowering the others. The picture successfully represents the serenity Yeats describes because even I felt at ease looking at this picture.
The small island we see in the center is the famous Innisfree Yeats depicts in his 1890 poem. According to tourists, the island is uninhabited till this day and it is surprisingly very small. Interestingly, the island has changed very little since Yeats first visited the island in the 1800s. The body of water surrounding the tiny island is lake Lough Gill, which means “bright lake”; it is a freshwater lake that is mainly situated in County Sligo (“Ireland’s most wild and captivating islands”). County Sligo is located in northwestern Ireland and it is known primarily for the legacy of W. B. Yeats. If you were to travel to Sligo, you can actually visit the cemetery where Yeats’s grave lies. The cemetery is in Drumcliffe, a village found in between Benbulben Mountain and Drumcliffe Bay (“Ireland’s most wild and captivating islands”).
“There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,”W. B. Yeats The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1890)
The picture above is part of the collection of photos of County Sligo found in Google Earth. I included this picture because this is what I pictured when I read the quote above. I pictured a sky with the sun slowly setting, the orange-red horizon beginning to disappear and darkness beginning to rise; but that darkness is soon illuminated by the stars and the surrounding bio-luminescent animals. As I read the poem, I tried my best to recreate the landscape Yeats missed so dearly in hopes of understanding the importance he places on nature. The speaker emphasizes the longing desire he has for peace and tranquility. It is evident that he cannot attain this in the city, because modern life is a bleak, grey environment filled with noise. Only in nature, can he achieve true peace and inner tranquility. I found it very interesting how nature is depicted as an active force; nature is depicted as a divine force that is constantly summoning the speaker. It waits patiently for the speaker and according to the language, once we establish a connection with nature, we begin a spiritual journey where we mend the soul and in the end achieve inner serenity.
“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
I hear it in the deep heart’s core”W. B. Yeats The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1890)
After closer investigation of the poem, I noticed an organization in the stanzas I had not noticed before. The first stanza is about the basic necessities of the speaker – shelter and food. While the second stanza focuses on the needs of the soul – peace and serenity. And the final stanza focuses on the tension created between the speaker’s longing desire or memory of nature and his bleak reality. The speaker wishes to return to nature but he is held back by his modern life, thus, modern life is a barrier that prevents us from forming a meaningful connection with nature and from achieving inner peace. So, should we renounce modern life in exchange for that peace? In the end, I found myself without a firm answer; but one thing is clear:
Innisfree is so much more than a mere island, it is a symbol of nature and freedom.