Fantasy Landscapes in Yeats’s Early Work

In this week’s readings, I felt particularly drawn to Yeats’s earlier work. “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” were especially captivating to me. Both poems dive deep into fantasy—using traditional Irish mythology and folklore to construct spaces which both harken back to Ireland’s past and invite the viewer into a realm completely of Yeats’s imagination. Both poems begin with a journey into nature—which simultaneously marks a departure from the real world to that of dream and fantasy. In both cases, this journey takes place in the first line:

“I went out to the hazel wood,”

– “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” W.B. Yeats

“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,”

– “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” W.B. Yeats

The notable difference here is that one poem locates this journey in the past, while the other locates it in the future. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” seems to reflect Yeats’s personal imaginary space—the future tense of the poem and the more realistic imagery gives the impression that this space is, at least to some degree, attainable. Yeats entertains the idea that he can, and in fact will, realize this dream. “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” on the other hand, pulls more from mythology and grounds itself firmly in the fantastical, particularly when it describes the trout which turns into a “glimmering girl.” The space described here is also thoroughly unattainable; Yeats describes the events in the past tense, which gives the sense that they are the experiences of a fictional character inspired by legend (this idea is also reinforced by the title). Solitude is also integral to both poems. Imagination always takes place within the mind of the individual; even when other characters are present in the imagined world, they are merely projections of the individual mind. Yeats reflects this insight by emphasizing first-person narration and the inward desires of the narrator.

1 Comment

  1. I love that you also connected Yeats’ poetry with natural imagery. I chose to analyze “The Wild Swans at Coole” for my discussion post this week and I definitely felt a connection with the nature that surrounded him. I think it’s especially interesting that you mention how the future tense in “The Lake of Innisfree” makes the poem’s natural imagery, these fantasies that he’s conjured up, feel attainable. Especially in Yeats’ older works, he focuses a lot on aging. I’m wondering if some of these dreams actually proved to be unattainable, causing greater strife in his older life?

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