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The Lake Isle of Innisfree

July 26, 2012

We recently shared a rental house with another family for a week at the beach in South Carolina, near Charleston, which is one of my favorite places in the world.  We’ve gone there since we were out of college long enough to have money to go on vacation and have made it a bi-annual event with other college friends since about 1990, so our children have grown up going there together.

We have a kind of routine, developed since they were babies. In the morning, as soon as we wake up, we go out to the beach.  When the sun gets hot and overhead, we come in, shower off the salt and sand, and have lunch. In the early afternoon, we stay out of the sun for a while, reading and getting ready to go out sightseeing, boating, or eating dinner in a restaurant.

One day during the week I take the  “kids” (now anyone under 30) out crabbing, and we usually catch a few that we boil up for an appetizer.  It’s a relaxing week, and all the unaccustomed sand castle building, kayak paddling, and wave jumping make me see less of the late evening hours than I might otherwise like.

It makes me feel like the speaker of this poem by W.B. Yeats:

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 honeybee,
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.

The sound of lake water lapping is quiet, whereas the sound of the Atlantic on the barrier islands around Charleston is more of a roar—but it’s still a peaceful sound because of its repetitiveness, at least for someone who has only been there in the summer, and in good weather.

I like the volition in this poem, that the speaker asserts that he “will arise and go now.”  The urge to go is always there, so it’s wonderful to feel that I’m experiencing the moment when a person can go, right now.

This is why I write about poetry—because so often only a poem can say for me much of what I’d like to be able to articulate.  “Peace comes dropping slow.”  That’s a phrase that runs through my mind when I set a low chair in the surf and watch the waves roll in.

I’m now segueing into answering some of the introductory questions that a group of bloggers who write about poetry have asked, for The Poetry Project.  “Do you have a favorite poet?”  By post count (how often a line comes into my mind and I feel inclined to write about the poem), it’s Philip Larkin. By intention (poems I think about the most, in daily life), it’s Wallace Stephens. By inclination (turns of phrase I find most satisfying and memorable), it’s Jonathan Swift.

So often, people who talk about poetry have to talk about their experiences with poetry in the past, because parents or teachers have made reading poetry seem difficult.  My experience, though, despite a few high school teachers who walked me through their way of reading a poem as if it were the only possible way, has been overwhelmingly positive, from my parents reading me nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss, and Robert Service out loud to the college teacher who shared his love of Wallace Stevens with me.

A poem that has had a profound effect on me is Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts. I read it early and have read it often, and it continues to show me how important perspective can be to the capacity for empathy.

Something that frustrates me about the way people talk about poetry is when they assume that “difficult” poetry could be simplified. I think the point is that some feelings are so complicated that only a very difficult line of poetry can even come close to representing the full truth of that feeling.

The last question I have to answer is to tell something about me that has nothing to do with poetry. I’m not sure that’s possible. I was thinking about saying that I love summer.  I love to be surrounded by heat, and to have the humidity curl my hair, and to go swimming and have picnics. But part of what I love about summer is the peace—a lot of things slow down (at least in the academic world) and the town where I work gets much quieter, and there’s time to read longer books and to travel to new places.  And then when I get back home and it’s a still morning with the cicadas in the back yard grinding up and up, thinking about the quiet brings me back to this Yeats poem, where it’s so quiet you can hear the wings of the linnets.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2012 8:01 am

    One of my favorite poems from college – and I’m with you on that opening line. Very appropriate for me today, too!

  2. July 26, 2012 10:36 am

    Yes. Our vacations are similar. Once we’re all awake and caffinated, we hit the beach for a couple of hours and then come in for lunch and lounging around. We go back out after dinner and enjoy the ocean when the sun’s setting and most people have left for the day.

    Not sure I have a favorite poet. Larkin comes to mind. But I don’t read much of it so I don’t really think I can answer that question.

    • July 31, 2012 11:16 am

      We sometimes talk about going back after dinner, but since we’ve got all the college friends there, we usually opt for sitting on the porch and talking.
      I’m so glad Larkin comes to mind! Whether it’s true or not, I like to think I might have had a hand in that, over the last four years.

  3. August 7, 2012 10:09 pm

    I quoted Innesfree – or added my own improvements – for much of the last two weeks. Some days arising was easier than others.

  4. August 28, 2012 9:27 pm

    Your answers to our questions themselves were poetic! I especially love your answer to our last question.

    My favorite part of this Yeats poem is the adjective “bee-loud.” So perfect! So descriptive! I love it. I love this whole poem. Thank you for sharing! I also love what you say here:

    “This is why I write about poetry—because so often only a poem can say for me much of what I’d like to be able to articulate. “Peace comes dropping slow.” That’s a phrase that runs through my mind when I set a low chair in the surf and watch the waves roll in.”

    Yes, yes, yes. It’s so true.

  5. August 28, 2012 10:12 pm

    I’m glad you liked it! And yes, bee-loud is so evocative.

  6. September 1, 2012 10:27 am

    I am also a fan of “Musee des Beaux Arts.” Like you mentioned in your post, only in poetry can convoluted sentence structure be an acceptable means of expressing complex emotion. Like the poet, the reader has to stumble along, and reading becomes more of an experience than an exercise in comprehension.

    • September 1, 2012 10:35 am

      Yes! Sometimes a poet writes a line that’s hard to say out loud, and that’s a sign that you need to pause and think about it. It’s a literal stumbling block. One of my favorite examples is from Hopkins–in his poem “Spring and Fall” there’s the line “what heart heard of, ghost guessed.” Try saying that ten times fast.

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