The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

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Discussion Topic

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" explores the use of symbolism, theme, personification, and imagery

Summary:

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" employs symbolism, theme, personification, and imagery to convey its message. The poem symbolizes a yearning for peace and simplicity, with themes of nature and escapism. Personification is used to bring nature to life, while vivid imagery creates a serene and idyllic setting, emphasizing the poet's desire for a tranquil retreat away from urban life.

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How does "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" utilize symbolism, theme, personification, and imagery?

The cabin on the lake symbolizes the simple life, a life free of distraction and troubles.  Symbolism is an object that has a meaning larger than itself.  Just as the cabin is simple, “of clay and wattles made,” this life allows us to rely on nothing more than ourselves.  We have, as is repeated in the poem, “peace there.”  Peace, solitude, and nothing but the sound of the waves lapping?  What could be more simple.

A theme in the poem is mankind’s love of nature.  Theme is a message.  From nature we came, and to nature we long to go back.  This is why we go camping and hiking, and take long walks and bike rides.  The fact that the cabin is made of natural materials emphasizes this connection to nature.  So is what’s outside the cabin.

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

You can see it in the emphasis on peace, solitude, returning to the land, and living off the land.  This is what people often want, the ability to be one with the land.  It might be gardening or simply taking a walk, but this poem captures that wish. 

An example of personification is “where the cricket sings.”  Personification is when you describe something like a human when it’s not.  Crickets do not literally sing.  They make a sound like music, which we describe as human-like singing.

Imagery is descriptive language.  It can be sensory language, such as “cricket sings” and “pavements grey.”  One appeals to the sense of sound, and the other the sense of sight.  You can also hear the crickets sing, linnet’s wings, and bees buzz, and see the nine rows of beans and purple glow.

The poem paints a pretty picture of a simple little cabin by a lake.  Like the subject, the poem is simple.  It has only three stanzas of four lines each.  It uses a simple rhyme scheme the reinforces the simplicity of its subject, and creates a sense of peace, harmony, and escape.

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What is the use of imagery in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"?

Let us remind ourselves that imagery is creating verbal pictures through the use of words that appeal to as many of the senses as possible to try and help us imagine the scene that the author or poet is describing in our heads so we can "see" it. Clearly, the powerful imagination of the speaker of this poem as he envisages his rural retreat and the images of natural beauty that he will enjoy lends itself naturally to great imagery. In particular, one of the distinct aspects of this poem are the sounds that are created as part of the imagery. Consider the second stanza:

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

Dropping from the veils of 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.

Note the way we have combined images that appeal to our sight, with the description of midnight being "all a glimmer" and noon being "a purple glow," but also we have images that directly appeal to our sense of hearing with the sounds of the crickets and the beating of the linnet's wings. Such imagery that appeals to a variety of senses really helps us to imagine the scene and places us there so we can share in the peace and beauty of this man's rural retreat.

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What is the use of imagery in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"?

In this poem, the speaker is making plans for a change in life location and style. S/he has had enough of living in the midst of traffic and the noise and bustle of life in close proximity with other people. It is time to get away and to simplify.

The language and the imagery, as an expression of this desire to simplify, is very expressive but not at all flowery or overdone. There is no lengthy description of the new dwelling; we're just told it will be a "small cabin" made of very basic materials. The plan for food at this new location is also straightforward - nine rows of bean plants and a hive for honey bees. Very simple, very basic, but very adequate - the speaker is conveying the desire for simplicity through images and through the manner in which they are explained.

No need to go on at great length. The speaker expresses the "deep heart's core" need to find a place where the loudest sound is the "lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore." With very simple word pictures, Yeats very effectively communicates the anticipation of the freedom to be found when the speaker arrives at Innisfree.

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Discuss the effectiveness of Yeats' use of imagery in "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."

Let us remember that imagery is defined as the creation of pictures through the use of words. The best imagery is created through the incorporation of as many of the five sense as possible into the poem, so that we not only see what the speaker is trying to describe, but can hear, smell, taste and feel it too. Note how we can see this in operation in the idyllic vision of the countryside given to us by the speaker:

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 spectacular sight of morning, midnight and noon is described and at the same time we can "hear" the sound of the "linnet's wings" against this incredible backdrop. Such details help us to imagine the scene that is being described to us more vividly, and also link into the theme of the poem, which is the call that the speaker feels on his life to move to Innisfree and live in harmony with the nature. This is a call that, even in the greyest of city environments, he can hear.

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