24 March 2011


Why is "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" such an anthology standard?  For those of us who will never be able to forget "The Cold Heaven," "Sailing to Byzantium," "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen," "Lapis Lazuli," and at least half a hundred other jewels, it's hard to forgive Yeats for wasting his lyric gifts on such blather.  Even though he was only twenty-five when the poem was published, in 1890, the contemporaneous "Cuchulain's Fight With the Sea" and especially "Who Goes With Fergus?" are incomparably greater.  To my ear, "Innisfree" displays the precious worst of what James Joyce later called "the cultic twalette," although I suppose it's just possible Yeats was parodying something I don't recognize.  No, I can't actually talk myself into buying that.  

Anyway, I am always thrilled to find a decent parody: as I see it, Willie Yeats was really asking for it.  Here's the original, if you can stand it...

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 honeybee,
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.

Had enough?  Here's "The Cockney of the North," by Harry Graham, from J. C. Squire's 1929 parody anthology Apes and Parrots (the book's name alone is worth a prize):

I will arise and go now, and go to Inverness,
And a small villa rent there, of lath and plaster built;
Nine bedrooms will I have there, and I'll don my native dress,
And walk about in a d---- loud kilt.          N. B.: "d----" rhymes with "bee."

And I will have some sport there, when grouse come driven slow, 
Driven from purple hill-tops to where the loaders quail;
While midges bite their ankles, and shots are flying low,
And the air is full of the grey-hen's tail.

I will arise and go now, for ever, day and night,
I hear the taxis bleating and the motor-'buses roar, 
And over tarred macadam and pavements parched and white
I've walked till my feet are sore!   etc., etc.

And here's a lovely bit of catnip from Poetry for Cats, issued by Henry Beard, late of the Harvard Lampoon.  This is "The Dismal Isle of Innisfree," by William Butler Yeats's Cat (possibly a pseudonym):

I must arise and hide now, or go to Innisfree,
To the dank hut he built there, of mud and rubbish made;
The only thing you'll find there is about a billion bees,
And mushed-up beans in a soggy glade.

And you get bit by ticks there, for ticks come dropping down,
Dropping from the leaves of the nettles, to lodge within your fur;
There breezes smell of cow-flops, the lake is dirty brown,
And right next door lives a nasty cur.

I will arise and hide now, for any time I see
The box in which I'm carried positioned by the door,
I know it's time to vanish, and to the cellar flee:
My Innisfree beneath the floor.

All right, the unpurged images of Innisfree have receded: I feel better now.  Thanks for listening.

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