A Simpler Life in The Lake Isle of InnisfreeHow does this poem show the longing for a simplier time?  

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The longing for home and its quiet and peace---this is the foundation for the beautiful poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats. Yeats associated the fictional isle of Innisfree to the Island Lough Gill that he as a young boy visited at night with his cousin.  

The beginning line of the poem is the heart of the poem: “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.”  To the poet, who is in London, the isle is his fantasy destination; and he longs for the peace and the natural world of the uninhabited island where man could communicate with nature and God.

1st stanza

The entire poem is based on the extended metaphor of Innisfree as the longing of the poet’s heart and the wish to find his way there.

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-row will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

When the speaker gets to the isle, he will build a cabin made of clay mud and twigs.  He will plant a garden of nine bean rows, along creating a bee hive.  He will live by himself with the sounds of the honey bees surrounding him.

The first stanza of the poem refers to Walden and Henry David Thoreau.  Yeats’ father read him this book when he was growing up.  This type of living appealed to Yeats after spending time in the large, busy city.

2nd stanza

The poet longs for peace and quiet which is hard to find in a busy city.  On his isle, peace comes from the soft light of early morning to the crickets singing at night. In addition, he describes the night as glimmering with the fireflies and the noon’s bright glow from the sun. The evening sky will be full of the birds in flight.

3rd stanza

Repeating the beginning line, the speaker reminds the reader of what his entire thesis is: “ I will arise and go now…” but he becomes even more personal with his desire.  He states that every minute of every day, he hears the lapping of the waves as they roll on the shore.   The speaker is standing in the middle of the street or some roadway in some urban city---he hears the sounds from Innisfree deep within his heart and soul.  What a beautiful metaphor: “I heart it in the deep heart’s core.” 

Most people long for the place they call home or somewhere that can give them the respite they desire.  To live as Thoreau promoted would take quite a commitment. 

Modern man lives with so many modern contrivances that it is hard to imagine this really happening; however, the desire to find peace and quiet lures many people to move out of the big city to a smaller community with less noise and stress. 

Unfortunately, Yeats was never able to complete his peaceful haunt on his isle near Lough Gill.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker of the poem longs for a simpler time because he describes a cabin on the island that is made of clay and sticks, as houses were made in earlier times. 

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.

In this simple life, the speaker has peace.  He listens to crickets and watches rain and the sunrise.  The sound of the water lapping on the lakes calms him and makes him feel satisfied with life. 

Whether the cabin is real or sentimental, the description of the simpler life reminds us of the need to stop and slow down from time to time.  If we can appreciate the small things in life, we are more likely to be balanced.  Even the structure and language of the poem is simple, to remind us of this fact.