The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

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Explain as fully as you can the contrast between the last four lines of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and the rest of the poem. You should consider not just what the lines mean but also the language used by the poet.

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In all three stanzas, the speaker begins with the claim that he "will" or "shall" go to Innisfree, but it is only in the third stanza that he shifts to the present tense. He says "I hear the lake water" and "I stand on the roadway." In the first two stanzas, the reader has the impression that the speaker does intend to physically go to Innisfree. He wants to escape to the natural world. (Yeats was inspired by Henry David Thoreau's work Walden, in which Thoreau describes how he lived [relatively] alone in the forest for two years.) But in this last stanza, the present tense of the verb "hear" might imply that he is, in fact, there. However, in the next line, he says he is presently standing on a roadway, so he is still in an urban or city setting. When he says he hears the water, he is imagining it. So, in the last stanza, we might surmise that going to Innisfree is a mental escape. But since he does use the present tense of "hear" in the last stanza, he implies that, in his imagination, he has "arrived" there. 

The "pavements grey" is a hard, dull image. This contrasts with the more vibrant descriptions in the first two stanzas. In the first stanza, the speaker dreams of being surrounded by peaceful but vibrant life: bean-rows and bees. In the second stanza, he speaks of the glimmering night and the purple sky at noon. This is much more colorful than the grey pavement. The pavement is hard, unmovable, and lifeless. This clearly shows a contrast between the urban setting that he wishes to escape from and the more vibrant natural world of Innisfree. However, he is able to escape via his imagination, and this is the point. Going to Innisfree is, within the context of the poem, a conscious journey.

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