The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

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Critical Overview

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“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is one of Yeats’s earlier poems and also one of his best known. It is perhaps so widely known due to its universal subject matter, that of the conflict between youth and aging, and the longing for emotional escape. Author William York Tindall, in his book W. B. Yeats, terms “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” “a vision of escape.” However, some find the poem overly sentimental and prefer Yeats’s later poems. F. R. Leavis, in his book New Bearings in English Poetry: A Study of the Contemporary Situation, cites a statement by Yeats regarding his early poetry:

I tried after the publication of The Wanderings of Oisin to write of nothing but emotion, and in the simplest language, and now I have had to go through it all, cutting out or altering passages that are sentimental from lack of thought.

Edmund Wilson, in his book Alex’s Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930, explores the conflict between Yeats’s world of imagination in his poetry and the world of reality:

The world of imagination is shown us in Yeats’s early poetry as something infinitely delightful, infinitely seductive, as something to which one becomes delirious and drunken—and as something which is somehow incompatible with, and fatal to, the good life of that actual world which is so full of weeping and from which it is so sweet to withdraw.

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Essays and Criticism