The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” a twelve-line poem divided into three quatrains, is a study in contrasts. The most obvious contrast is between two places: one rural (identified in the title and described throughout much of the poem), the other (alluded to only in the second-to-last line)—by implication—urban.

Innisfree is a small island at the eastern end of Lough Gill in County Sligo, Ireland. William Butler Yeats spent part of nearly every year in Sligo while growing up; he often walked out from Sligo town to Lough Gill. His father having read to him from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), he daydreamed (as he says in The Trembling of the Veil, 1922, incorporated into his Autobiography, 1965) of living “a life of lonely austerityin imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree.” In 1890, while living in London, he was “walking through Fleet Street very homesick [when] I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-windowand began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem Innisfree.”

Yeats imagines escaping from the city to the solitude and peace of a pastoral retreat, there to live a simple life, close to nature. The first stanza states his intention and provides a prospectus for the home he will make for himself, specifying the rustic construction for his cabin and exactly how many rows of beans he will plant. The second stanza, more fancifully imagining what...

(The entire section is 426 words.)