What are the roadway and the pavement a symbol of in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"?
The roadway and the pavement in Yeats's poem can be understood in two ways when looking at the context of the entire work. In "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," Yeats writes about a small cabin surrounded by nature, and within that nature is peace. The opening line of the poem is, "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree." This is important because it sets up the character of the speaker: the fact that he needs to "arise" is suggestive of someone who has sat idly by. This abrupt sentiment is almost like an epiphany, and the narrator realizes that they must abjure society and return to nature.
In the final stanza, the poem repeats that initial starting line: "I will arise and go now." However, in these final lines, Yeats also writes:
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
On one hand, the roadway and the pavement can be considered symbols of the unnatural world for Yeats. They are destructive to the "natural" part of his self and to the wilderness that his heart yearns for. Roadways and grey pavements are industrial features created by man, but the wild escape of nature is still untouched and closer to the speaker's heart's desire.
On the other hand, the roadway and the pavement can be viewed as symbols of paths leading to where the speaker desires to go. In literature, roadways and pavement are often symbols for the path of escape. As Yeats stands in the roadway, he hears his heart tell him to run.
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