Themes and Meanings
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” expresses a set of desires familiar in the modern world: to escape, to achieve peace and solitude, to be at one with nature. Yeats says almost nothing in the poem about what he would like to escape from, but his reader can easily imagine the stressful conditions of modern, especially urban, life. Such desires have been common themes in Romantic literature since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and “Innisfree” is a good example of late nineteenth century Romanticism.
Many of Yeats’s early (pre-1900) poems express the feeling that, in William Wordsworth’s phrase, “the world is too much with us.” Poem after early poem articulates a longing for peace, for escape. The refrain in “The Stolen Child” (1886) is a seductive call to “Come away” from the world (seen as “full of weeping”) “To the waters and the wild.” “To an Isle in the Water” (1889) differs from “Innisfree” by expressing a wish to go away not alone but accompanied by the “Shy one of my heart.” Otherwise, the poem seems to be a study, a preliminary sketch for “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
While “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is an early poem, it is in some respects transitional, pointing toward Yeats’s mature work. As its loosened rhythms contain something of his “own music,” so its images and vocabulary reveal something of his own emerging language. Again, a contrast may be drawn between the...
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