Finding Peace by Listening to Your Deep Heart’s Core and Yeats

14 11 2011

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to


And a small cabin build there, of

     clay and wattels made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a

     hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud


And I shall have some peace there,      

     for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the

     morning to where the cricket


There midnight’s all a glimmer, and

     noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s


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.

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

When Yeats was a teenager, he planned to emulate Thoreau and live close to nature on his “Walden”, Innisfree.  Years passed, and while feeling very homesick, he wandered Fleet Street and heard a fountain in a shop window.  This sound brought him back to his personal utopia, Innisfree, and the desires he had about living there.  Hence, this brilliant lyrical poem was born.

We all have so much in our lives.  We each have our own challenges and stressors.  I like to focus on this whenever I encounter a particularly miserable person.  Instead of reacting with anger, I try to remember that this person has challenges that I do not understand.  Sometimes thinking this way really helps my reaction and averts a potentially hostile exchange.

 Sometimes, nope! But I try. . .


That said, people, on the whole, are able to withstand so much; we are inordinately strong.   I could go on and on here listing examples, but I don’t think I need to. You hear me. We also have our breaking points, our moments of calling out “Calgon, take me away!” or other more colorful, expletive-filled exclamations.

Often, when these moments arrive, we can not afford to physically leave.  For example, when my babies are having fits of extreme crankiness, I may wish to leave and NEED to leave, but obviously, I can’t always do so. 

So what is one to do to maintain a bit of sanity?

Yeats’s answer was to envision a personal utopia, a clear, specific place.

Notice how specific he is about Innisfree:

  • It is not just a cabin, but a cabin built of “clay and wattles”.  What the hell are wattles, you ask as I did before dictionary.coming it? Wattles are rods or stakes interwoven with tree branches for making walls, roofs, etc.
  • He will not simply plant beans, but have nine bean rows.
  • There will be a sound of humming bees.
  • There will be the feel of peace dropping slowly like dew drops
  • There will be the sounds of crickets
  • There will be the sight of stars shining brightly as is only possible in remote areas away from light pollution.
  • There is a purple glow from the heather during the day.  (Innisfree means heather.)
  • There will be the motion and sight of linnets, which are finch-like birds, flying in the evening.
  • There will be the constant lapping of waves on the shore

I think it’s the details that are most important in this poem’s ability to create peace in the speaker and also in the reader.  We get a tranquil feeling if we read this poem a few times.  Even if our personal utopias may not include being a bean farmer alone in the woods (with the exception of an ever-present swarm of bees, of course), we still are lulled by this poem.  When I read this,  it soothes me; I can feel my blood slowing a tad bit. 

There are other reasons why it is so calming.  Yeats is a lyrical genius, for one.  That helps. There is a iambic pattern and line lengths that closely imitate the lulling sound of the waves hitting the shore.  Yeats also uses quite a bit of repetition in each stanza, repeating calm sounding vowels in go, bee, peace, and dropping.  The images he creates are also rather Irish-mystical, too, especially in that third stanza with the purple glow and glistening stars.  It is very “otherworldly” in effect, as it should be to help create excellent contrast as he jars us back into the reality of where he is present physically in the next stanza, the grey and dismal streets of an urban setting. 

You definitely can’t discount the sound of the poem in communicating the calming message here, but I think the attention to detail is something useful that we may borrow to construct our perfect worlds.  When you need to escape mentally, where do you go? Follow Yeats’ example, and build it closely. What are the sounds, sights, motions, and feelings in your place? How many bean rows will you tend?

My Innisfree has sounds of happy toddlers in jammies preparing for bed well before midnight.  I’m still sorting the out the other details.