The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

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Exploring the themes in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

Summary:

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" explores themes of nature, peace, and escape. The poem reflects a longing for the tranquility and simplicity of rural life, contrasting it with the hustle and bustle of urban existence. It emphasizes the restorative power of nature and the speaker's desire for a harmonious, self-sufficient life close to the natural world.

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What is the theme of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree?"

The poem expresses the speaker's desire to escape from a fast-paced urban life characterized by "pavements grey." He longs instead for a slower-paced existence in nature. He dreams of escaping to a small island on a lake, where he would live alone in a simple house made of "clay and wattles." There he would grow nine rows of beans and have a beehive.

The speaker believes the slower-paced life he dreams of will bring him peace. He writes,

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

He describes the calming rhythm of days and nights lived close to nature and the quiet lapping of the waves against the shore. The speaker retains an image of this simple life as he goes about his busy urban days:

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Since the time of the poet Hesiod, in 800 BCE, poets have expressed a longing for a less cluttered life and a belief that peace comes through living in harmony with nature. Yeats's poem is compelling in that his images capture the slow, simple pace of such an imagined life. The last line expresses the idea that one can find peace even amid the urban rush by imagining this simpler existence.

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What is the theme of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree?"

One of the best things about studying classic literature is that the themes found therein apply as much today as they did at the time of writing. So it is with Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," a short but magnificent little narrative exploring the need many people feel to escape modern life and/or city life, and retreat to a place of solitude and quiet. The poem is heavily influenced by American writer Henry David Thoreau, who retreated to Walden Pond for a couple of years in the mid-1800's to do just what Yeats speaks of. Yeats envisions a cabin for himself, a place where he will hear water murmuring against the shoreline and not much else--sounds and images he imagines as he stands in the city on the concrete pavement.

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What is the theme of suffering in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"?

Both "The Stolen Child" and "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" offer a contrast between the mundane, everyday world which we all inhabit and another, much happier natural world in which there is peace, joy, and contentment. A theme common to both poems is that nature is alive whereas the city is dead, and that nature is enchanted whereas the city has long since been thoroughly disenchanted.

In "The Stolen Child" Yeats delves deeply into ancient Celtic mythology to evoke a dreamy, natural landscape where the child may find repose from a world of suffering. Yeats isn't a nature poet; he isn't simply presenting us with a vision of the raw beauty of the natural world. Instead, he offers us a picture of the Irish countryside as a mythical place infused with spirits, fairies, and all manner of strange, ethereal beings. This is what gives life to nature, what forms its beating heart, and makes it the ideal haven for the little child from which to escape the myriad sufferings of a deadening urban existence.

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What is the theme of suffering in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"?

Your question seems to be referring to another poem by Yeats, "The Stolen Child," which has the following refrain:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.


Both "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Stolen Child" have some similarity. They suggest that escape from the real world is the best thing to do. There is a similar theme in Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium." In that poem the speaker feels uncomfortable and alienated in his present surroundings and wishes to escape into the distance and into the past--or perhaps he only means that he wishes to escape mentally by losing himself in creative work.

It is easy for the modern urban dweller to understand and relate to these sentiments. Big cities at first seem attractive and exciting, but eventually they come to fell like expensive prisons full of lonely people who have been uprooted from nature and are leading lives of what Thoreau called "quiet desperation."

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