The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

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What does the poet hope to find at Innisfree?

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In the first stanza of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," the poet says that he hopes to have nine bean-rows and a hive for the honey-bee, so he can live alone in the bee-loud glade. Despite the noise of the bees, the next hope he expresses, in the second stanza, is that he will have some peace there "for peace comes dropping slow."

These are the three things the poet specifically hopes to have at Innisfree. He will also have a small cabin of clay and wattles, though he will have to build it first. Then he will be free to contemplate the rural idyll around him and listen to the various sounds that are more peaceful than silence: the humming of bees, "the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore," the crickets singing and the susurration of linnets' wings.

The poet's dream of tranquility by the lakeside comes to him while he is standing "on the roadway, or on the pavements grey." This places the poem in a long tradition of pastoral poetry, in which the city dweller extols the virtues of the countryside and wishes that he could live there, enjoying a less stressful environment in tune with the rhythms of nature. Yeats would have been familiar with this theme in Latin poetry, particularly that of Horace, whose tone and outlook seem to have influenced this work.

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Why does the poet want to go Innisfree?

Normally one needs to be careful not to attribute the words of a poem to the poet's own feelings because the poet could be writing in the voice of a "persona," a character whose feelings he or she steps into when speaking in the poem. However, we know from William Butler Yeats' own explanation of this poem that the feelings described in the poem were those he actually had at the time he wrote it. Without taking into account that explanation, but only looking at the lines of the poem, we can surmise the poet's motivation.

In the last stanza, he states that when he stands in the roadway or on the gray pavement, he hears lake water lapping. This suggests that he now lives in the city, far away from the beautiful sights of nature described in the first part of the poem. He hears this water lapping "in the deep heart's core." This means that something deep inside him is calling him to return to the country and to the lake where he can experience first-hand the pleasurable sensations he can only imagine while he is in the city.

Although it the island is beautiful, that is not its primary draw. Beyond the beauty of the flowers, birds, and water; beyond the rhythmic and soothing sounds of waves and bees; beyond these sensual pleasures is an emotional experience that the Lake Isle offers him. That experience is peace. Living a solitary life in nature will set his mind and his heart at rest in a way he is unable to achieve in his current urban setting. That is why he wants to go to the Lake Isle of Innisfree.

(In the link below, you can listen to W. B. Yeats explaining how he came to write this poem. It's wonderful!)

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Why do you think the speaker yearns to go to Innisfree?

The poet yearns to go to the Lake Isle of Innisfree because he is seeking peace. On Innisfree he would be able to live alone in a small cabin, growing beans and keeping bees.

He explicitly states in the second stanza that he would find peace on Innisfree. He describes peace as leading a slow-paced life in a natural environment. He imagines feeling peaceful as he hears the crickets singing, sees the stars (midnight's "glimmer") and experiences evenings full of "linnet's wings."

In the third stanza, he contrasts this natural idyll with what he has been experiencing: standing on "roadways" or "pavements" (sidewalks), which suggests he has been living in a city or a busy, congested area. This is what he hopes to escape.

The poet is part of a long lineage of writers seeking peace and refuge in nature, simplicity, and solitude, away from the stress and crowds of cities and modern life.

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