The Call of the Bee-Loud Glade

Recently I discovered this enchanting poem, written by William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet and playwright:

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 gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Who can read those lovely lines and not be put in mind of Thoreau, down to the very mention of beans? And it seems that Yeats was indeed a fan of Walden’s most famous occupant. His father had read “Walden” to him when he was a boy. (What a great idea!) Consider this story, from Yeats’s autobiography, about how the poem came to be:

Sometimes I told myself very adventurous love-stories with myself 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 of lonely austerity mitigated by periodical lapses. I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem “Innisfree,” my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music. I had begun to loosen rhythm as an escape from rhetoric and from that emotion of the crowd that rhetoric brings, but I only understood vaguely and occasionally that I must for my special purpose use nothing but the common syntax. A couple of years later I could not have written that first line with its conventional archaism — “Arise and go” — nor the inversion of the last stanza.

I find his description here fascinating, for I too have felt just that same tug, on random occasions, triggered by a fountain or a tree or a bit of music. And I love getting some insight into his own view of his work, the idea that he “could not have written” the first line just a few years later. I assume by “conventional archaism” he refers to the use of the term in biblical writing, and yet it seems not terribly out of place here; the narrator is expressing not just an idle vacationing whim but instead what, to me, sounds like a very personal, overpowering, internal calling. He will arise and go because until he does, the summons of the lake water will follow him everywhere he goes.