Jun. 13, 2005

A Drinking Song

by William Butler Yeats

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

MONDAY, 13 JUNE, 2005
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Poems: "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "A Drinking Song" by W. B. Yeats from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. © Macmillan. Reprinted with permission

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 grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It is the birthday of William Butler Yeats, born in Dublin (1865). He grew up at a time when Ireland was an English colony, and most members of the Irish Protestant upper-class were pro-British. The Catholic middle-class were in favor of Irish independence. It didn't help them get along that Catholics were denied equal access to education and jobs and government positions.

William Butler Yeats was brought up in a Protestant family, so he should have been pro-British, but he was actually more interested in mysticism. A friend of his took him to his first séance in 1886, during which, Yeats's whole body began to shake. He felt himself thrown back against the wall. It was terrifying, but it also confirmed for him the existence of the spirit world. He became interested in the occult. His father wanted him to become a scientist, but Yeats wrote to his father in a letter, "The mystical life is the center of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write."

He began wandering around in an old, dark cloak, studying fairytales and mythology and Buddhism, playing the part of a mystic poet. A woman described him as wearing seedy, black clothes with a big, black bow at his throat, muttering verse to himself with a wild eye.

It all changed when he met an Irish nationalist named Maud Gonne, who was also the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and then he became interested in Irish nationalism in order to impress her. He organized rallies for Irish independence and wrote nationalist plays and poetry.

Yeats came to believe that if he could just get in touch with the mythic history of the Irish people he could write about something that would tie the whole country together, Protestants and Catholics.

Maud Gonne had married somebody else—a soldier who was a hero of the Easter uprising in 1916. The Irish free state came about in 1921, and Yeats served as one of the first members of the new Irish senate.

It was William Butler Yeats who said, "The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life or of the work, and if he take the second, must refuse a heavenly mansion raging in the dark."

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