The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats
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In "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," what does the poet find so attractive about the Lake Isle of Innisfree?

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When Yeats wrote "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" he was very much under the influence of Thoreau. As with the author of Walden, Yeats found the ideal of leading a simple life close to nature most appealing. This life of isolated rural bliss represents a haven of peace, far away from the madding crowds of the city. Even in the thick of the heaving throng, this Arcadian idyll still stirs the blood, retaining its hold upon the poet's imagination:

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Yeats's reference to "the pavements grey" is instructive here. City life is colorless and drab, but the Lake Isle of Innisfree offers an escape into a glorious world of color and great natural beauty. There the noon has a "purple glow," purple being a color traditionally associated with royalty. Here Yeats is emphasizing the majesty of the sun, a characteristic it shares with all of nature. The natural world is a kingdom of peace, and here Yeats will be a servant, leading a humble life of self-reliant simplicity. For a fiercely individual spirit bored and disillusioned by life in the modern city, this presents an attractive alternative indeed.

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The thing that the poet finds so attractive about Lake Isle of Innisfree is its promise of peace:

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings,

There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet's wings.

The poet, then, longs for this place which affords a sense of contentment and relaxation far from the busy modern world. Note how the poem's slow and regular meter helps to convey this languid, dreamy effect. There is also the vivid impressionistic description of the colours and beauties of this place, and the soothing stir of nature which is so different from the strident noise of the city where the poet actually is, as the final stanza makes clear. 

The poet, then, is physically trapped in the city, but he can imagine the beauty of Innisfree and this gives him spiritual sustenance. This is one of Yeats's early lyrics, exhibiting a familiar romantic sensibility in its praise of the deep purity and beauty of nature which is contrasted with the drabness, shallowness and sterility of modern urban living.

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