Yeats’ Reading of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

Here’s a link to a recording of Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Inisfree”

Yeats’ own reading of this poem is really interesting in that it definitely changes how I first thought of the poem. Initially, “Innisfree” sounded like a homage to romanticism with beautiful nature imagery and even an allusion to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden¬†with the line “Nine bean rows will I have there.” However, Yeats’ reading drones on almost as if he is grieving, which would make sense since he wrote¬†“Innisfree” in 1888, during his early period when he was young and idealistic, and this recording is from 1935, closer to the end of his life and after his transition into a much more bitter and disillusioned phase. Moreover, it’s worth pointing out that Yeats was inspired to write “Innisfree” by a water advertisement, which is like the total antithesis of what you would consider romantic. How did this recording change your reading?

2 Replies to “Yeats’ Reading of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree””

  1. I read the tone in Yeats’ recording not as grieving, but as a type of rhythmic chant. In various occult traditions, chanting is used to lull the rational mind into a sort of trance, in which is will be more connected to the “other” and distanced from the mundane reality of the world. With this in mind, the image of Yeats surrounded by the grey modernity of London, and conceiving in his mind a chant about the veiled morning, the glimmering night, and the slow-dropping peace surrounding the lake isle of Innisfree makes sense; the poet escapes the drudgery of the modern material world and transports himself (“I will arise and go now”) to a place of escape from all that. It is a spiritual “fortress of solitude” (“and a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made”) that he yearns for (…lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore/ While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey/ I hear it in the deep heart’s core”) when he is surrounded by the bustling, grey, middle class world of turn-of-the-century London.

    1. Rhythmic chant is right, I think. The idea is to create an experience of poetry that is entirely separate from ordinary encounters with language. The idea is to accent the rhythm so the poem is experienced almost as music–directly in the heart’s core. By the way, check out recordings of Pound, H.D., and Eliot reading–you’ll hear the same basic style.

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