The Lake Isle of Innisfree
By William Butler Yeats
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.
I encountered this poem as a young theatre student in college. My speech teacher was a huge, hard-bit woman who had a plethora of sadistic ways to toughen us up for the industry we were about to face. Her mantra whenever I got on my feet to work was, “You can’t do Shakespeare with a Boston accent!”
A city girl, I had not yet wandered. I’d only known one gardener in my neighborhood. His plastic Madonna was a gentle ghost-like presence standing among lush cucumbers leaves at dusk. I still remember the prickles of fresh cut grass against my legs, as I lay on my belly to peek under the plate sized leaves looking for squash blossoms, their summer perfume left to linger on my fingertips.
When I first read this poem I had little reference for the landscape it painted within my mind. I found it stiff and old fashioned. I didn’t understand why my teacher had insisted that we learn it. Yet, over the weeks of memorizing, working on meter and rhythm, breath and silence, reciting it over and over, I actually grew to love it! It was the sound that finally got to me; the vibration of the words within my body as I spoke them. Its swells and silences lapped at my soul, drawing me into a metaphor for what became my touchstone for something I longed – a deep inner peace.
Through years and decades of a journey, through lives I never imagined I’d live, I have returned to this poem with the same longing. Wondering when I would finally arrive at my own inner shore.
Like so many of us, my husband and I have worked hard to create a haven in our little inner city home. I finally have a small garden of my own – with climbing roses, black-eyed Susans, tomatoes and herbs; my urban oasis. As we face the constant uncertainty of freelance work in an economy that threatens our stability, I find myself soothed by reruns of The Waltons, and reading Thoreau’s “Walden” before sleep, then dreaming of tiny little houses.
Still, I have lived long enough to trust that we will survive, as long as we hold onto what is most important. It is not the outer garden.
This evening I read these lines once more, and find that something has changed. With a motivated practice of banishing all doubt in myself, in my skills and abilities, it is less of a struggle to stay positive or to find beauty in simple things. My focus has turned away from trying to be optimistic, to a simpler inner adjustment or balance, of bringing myself gently back to center.
Today, I need only remember to “hear it in the deep heart’s core.” And I am there.