The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

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

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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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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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