The Lake Isle of InnisfreeI will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,And live alone in the bee-loud glade.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.I will arise and go now, for always night and dayI hear 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.
The significance of the ‘heart’ metaphor to Yeats…The only business of the head in the world is tobow a ceaseless obeisance to the heart.Letter to Frederick J. Gregg (1886) The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent …Now that my ladder’s gone, to walk the earth. I must lie down where all the ladders start Letter to the Editor, Dublin Daily Express (1895) In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart. The Circus Animals’ Desertion (1939) …And how can body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? Leda and the Swan (1923) In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned; Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned… A Prayer for my Daughter (1921)
…Consume my heart away; sick with desire Too long a sacrificeAnd fastened to a dying animal Can make a stone of the heart.It knows not what it is; and gather me Easter 1916Into the artifice of eternity.Sailing to Byzantium (1926) A pity beyond all telling Is hid in the heart of love: The Pity of Love (1893) All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old, The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart, The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould, Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart. The Lover Tells of the Rose in his Heart (1899) Unwearied still, lover by lover, They paddle in the cold Companionable streams or climb the air; Their hearts have not grown old. The Wild Swans at Coole (1916)
And the significance of ‘sailing’ as a metaphor to Yeats… An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. Extract from Sailing to Byzantium (1926)‘I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make hissoul, and some of my thoughts about that subject I have put into a poem called Sailingto Byzantium. When Irishmen were illuminating the Book of Kells, and making thejewelled croziers in the National Museum, Byzantium was the centre of Europeancivilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy, so I symbolize the search for thespiritual life by a journey to that city.’ WB Yeats, 1931
Later explanation as to how he came to write the poem… ‘I planned to live some day in a cottage on a little island called Innisfree…I should live, as Thoreau lived, seeking wisdom.’ WB Yeats, Autobiographies, 1927.‘Sometimes I told myself very adventurous love-stories withmyself for hero, and at other times I planned out a life of lonely austerity,and at other times mixed the ideals and planned a life oflonely austerity mitigated by periodical lapses. I had still the ambition,formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreauon Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walkingthrough Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of waterand saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ballupon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the suddenremembrance came my poem `Innisfree, 16 my first lyric with anythingin its rhythm of my own music..’ WB Yeats, Interview with the BBC, 1927.
In March 1845, a friend told Thoreau, "Go out upon that, build yourself a hut, & there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. I see no other alternative, no other hope for you.“ Two months later, Thoreau embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living when he moved to a small, self-built house on land in a forest around the shores of Walden Pond. The house was in "a pretty pasture and woodlot" of 14 acres.Henry David Thoreau, June 1856 Thoreau left Walden Pond on September 6, 1847. Over several years, he worked to pay off his debts and also continuously revised his manuscript for what, in 1854, he would publish as Walden, or Life in the Woods, recounting the two years, two months, and two days he had spent at Walden Pond. The book compresses that time into a single calendar year, using the passage of four seasons to symbolize human development. Part memoir and part spiritual quest, Walden at first won few admirers, but later critics have regarded it as a classic American work that explores natural simplicity, harmony, and beauty as models for just social and cultural conditions.
From the introduction to the text explaining Thoreau’s reasons…‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essentialfacts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came todie, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is sodear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted tolive deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as toput to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life intoa corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then toget the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or ifit were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it inmy next excursion.’Henry David Thoreau, Walden, ‘Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.’ (1854)
Who else has Thoreau influenced?Here, in this courageous New Englanders refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jailrather than support a war that would spread slaverys territory into Mexico, I made myfirst contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusingto cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work severaltimes.I became convinced that non co-operation with evil is as much a moral obligation as isco-operation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate ingetting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings andpersonal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings ofThoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than everbefore. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi,a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these areoutgrowths of Thoreaus insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man canpatiently adjust to injustice.Martin Luther King, Jr
Who else influenced Yeats?I dipped my oars into the silent lake,And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boatWent heaving through the water like a swan;When, from behind that craggy steep till thenThe horizons bound, a huge peak, black and huge,As if with voluntary power instinct,Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,And growing still in stature the grim shapeTowered up between me and the stars, and still,For so it seemed, with purpose of its ownAnd measured motion like a living thing,Strode after me…. ...No familiar shapesThe Prelude Book I Remained, no pleasant images of trees, Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields; But huge and mighty forms, that do not live Like living men, moved slowly through the mind By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.Extracts from William Wordsworth’s ‘The Prelude’ Book I, 1850.
….the cry of unknown birds;The mountains more by blackness visibleAnd their own size, than any outward light;The breathless wilderness of clouds; the clock The immeasurable heightThat told, with unintelligible voice, Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,The widely parted hours; the noise of streams, The stationary blasts of waterfalls,And sometimes rustling motions nigh at hand, And in the narrow rent at every turnThat did not leave us free from personal fear; Winds thwarting winds, bewildered and forlorn,‘The Prelude’, Book VI The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky, The rocks that muttered close upon our ears, Black drizzling crags that spake by the way-side As if a voice were in them, the sick sight And giddy prospect of the raving stream, The unfettered clouds and region of the Heavens, Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light– Yes, I remember when the changeful earth, Were all like workings of one mind, the features And twice five summers on my mind had stamped Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree; The faces of the moving year, even then Characters of the great Apocalypse, I held unconscious intercourse with beauty The types and symbols of Eternity, Old as creation, drinking in a pure Of first, and last, and midst, and without end. Organic pleasure from the silver wreaths ‘The Prelude’, Book VI Of curling mist, or from the level plain Of waters coloured by impending clouds. ‘The Prelude’, Book I
These beauteous forms,Through a long absence, have not been to meAs is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:But oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the dinOf towns and cities, I have owed to them,In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;And passing even into my purer mindWith tranquil restoration:—feelings tooOf unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps, …And I have feltAs have no slight or trivial influence A presence that disturbs me with the joyOn that best portion of a good man’s life, Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublimeHis little, nameless, unremembered, acts Of something far more deeply interfused,Of kindness and of love. Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.Extracts from William Wordsworth’s ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,July 1798.’
‘The sublime’ in poetry and literature…Wordsworth got his idea of the sublime as it was developed by the writer Edmund Burke in APhilosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756). Burke was thefirst philosopher to argue that the sublime and the beautiful are mutually exclusive. The imaginationis moved to awe and instilled with a degree of fear by what is ‘dark, uncertain, and confused.’ Whilethe relationship of the sublime and the beautiful is one of mutual exclusiveness, either one canproduce pleasure. The sublime may inspire fear, but one receives pleasure in knowing that theperception is a largely a fiction.The feeling Wordsworth expresses is beyond rational understanding; it is a feeling ofthe sublime, of all the grandeur and divinity in the natural world. It’s a state of beingthat transcends the mundane and mechanical world in which we live. For theRomantics, it represented the longing to be free. But the sublime was more than justthe beauty of a sunset, it was about awe and terror…The sublime is man lost in theimmensity of nature.– Peter AckroydIs The Lake Isle of Innisfree about awe and terror? Is it ‘the sublime’ that Yeats issearching for?Watch the extracts from the series on the Romantics here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rja9-CLj0hg&feature=relatedYou’re looking for the episodes (wrongly labelled) Eternity, parts 3 and 4.
Or is Yeats after something simpler?http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003c1csMelvyn Bragg and guests discuss pastoral literature and to what extent does it representa continuous yearning for a non-existent Golden Age of Innocence? How far did it evolveto reflect the social and political preoccupations of its times and what were the realmeanings of its much used metaphors of town and country?Come live with me and be my love,And we will all the pleasures proveThat valleys, groves, hills, and fields,Woods or steepy mountain yields.And we will sit upon the rocks,Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,By shallow rivers to whose fallsMelodious birds sing madrigals.An entreaty from Christopher Marlowes Passionate Shepherd to His Love - thought by manyto be the crowning example of Elizabethan pastoral poetry. The traditions of pastoral poetry,literature and drama can be traced back to the third century BC and have principally offered aconventionalised picture of rural life, the naturalness and innocence of which is seen tocontrast favourably with the corruption and artificialities of city and court life. Pastoralliterature deals with tensions between nature and art, the real and the ideal, the actual andthe mythical, and although pastoral works have been written from the point of view ofshepherds, they have often been penned by highly sophisticated, urban poets.