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The "Lake Isle of Innisfree" is a poem written by William Butler Yeats in 1888. The poem was published first in the National Observer in 1890 and reprinted in The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics in 1892. One of Yeats's earlier poems, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" was an attempt to create a form of poetry that was Irish in origin rather than one that adhered to the standards set by English poets and critics. The poem, unlike many others from the era, does not contain direct references to mysticism and the occult. It received critical success in the United Kingdom and France.
Lake Isle of Innisfree is not to be confused with the song, "The Isle of Innisfree". Although the two works share a similar title they are completely different and original in their own right but are very often mistakenly thought to be one and the same. "The Isle of Innisfree" is a song that was written in 1949 (words and music) by Irish songwriter Dick Farrelly. The melody was used as the main theme of the film The Quiet Man.
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When Yeats was a child, his father had read to him from Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and Yeats described his inspiration for the poem by saying that while he was a teenager, he wished to imitate Thoreau by living on Innisfree, an uninhabited island in Lough Gill. He suggests that when he was living in London, he would walk down Fleet Street and long for the seclusion of a pastoral setting such as the isle. The sound of water coming from a fountain in a shop window reminded Yeats of the lake that he had previously seen, and it is this inspiration that Yeats credits for the creation of the poem.
In his youth, Yeats would visit the land at Lough Gill at night, often accompanied by his cousin Henry Middleton. On one occasion, they went out onto the lake at night on a yacht to observe birds and to listen to stories by the crew. The trips that Yeats took from the streets of Sligo to the remote areas around the lake set up for him the contrasting images of the city and nature that appear in the poem's text.
The poem is a twelve-line poem divided into three quatrains and an example of Yeats’s earlier lyric poems. Throughout the three short quatrains the poem explores the speaker’s longing for the peace and tranquility of Innisfree while residing in an urban setting. The speaker in this poem yearns to return to the island of Innisfree because of the peace and quiet it affords. He can escape the noise of the city and be lulled by the "lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore." On this small island, he can return to nature by growing beans and having bee hives, by enjoying the "purple glow" of noon, the sounds of birds' wings, and, of course, the bees. He can even build a cabin and stay on the island much as Thoreau, the American Transcendentalist, lived on Walden Pond. During his lifetime it was—to his annoyance—one of his most popular poems and on one occasion was recited (or sung) in his honor by two (or ten—accounts vary) thousand boy scouts.
A musical setting of this poem is featured in DUBLIN 1916, An Irish Oratorio and YEATS SONGS, a song cycle, both composed by Richard B. Evans. (published by Seacastle Music Company, 1995).
In the finale episode of the fourth season of the Fox science-fiction drama television series Fringe entitled Brave New World (Part 2), Dr. William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) narrates the first stanza of the poem, alluding to his plans of collapsing the two universes into a new world where he plays God.