Yeats’ Isle of Innisfree and a Map of Ireland
William Butler Yeats described the inspiration for one of his best-loved poems as coming from a "sudden" memory of his childhood while walking down Fleet Street in London in 1888.
The twelve-line poem comprising three quatrains is titled “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
I 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 day
I 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.
Innisfree is an uninhabited island within Lough Gill, a lake mainly situated in County Sligo, but partly in County Leitrim, in the Border Region of northern Ireland. Yeats had spent his summers as a child nearby and had imagined living on the island in imitation of Thoreau.
As a young poet, Yeats aimed to recreate a specifically Irish literature, which he felt had been lost over the centuries. His early work was often lyrical and celebrated the simplicity of Irish rural life.
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” was first published in 1890. Over the past 130 years it has garnered wide critical acclaim, been published in countless books and journals, and set to music by a range of artists.
In later years his poetry grew more physical and realistic, sparked by his interest in politics and Irish nationalism. such as his poem on the unexpected success of the 1916 Easter Rising, with the famous line “a terrible beauty is born,” signaling the rise of civic and political activism by ordinary citizens in the aftermath of the Easter rebellion.
Today, through the magic of the computer, we can journey in comfort and safety to Yeats’ Ireland without getting out of our chair, simply by looking closely at a map.
We can trace our way back in time with this original antique color lithographed map of Ireland which lets us connect with the life and works of Yeats, even as the constraints and restrictions on travel persist during the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This map was published in 1921— a momentous year in Irish history, which wrapped up with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, establishing the Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion.
In addition to its historical significance, the map also locates a wide range of geographical features -- counties, cities, towns, railroads, canals, mountains, and lakes, including Lough Gill, home to Yeats' isle of Innisfree.
In 1922, Yeats was appointed as Senator for the newly formed Irish Free State and served for two terms.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 and continued to write successfully until his death in France on January 28, 1939.