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Dan O'Brien on The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats

American poet and playwright Dan O’Brien recently won the 2014 Troubadour International Poetry Prize, 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize for War Reporter. You can read two new poems by O’Brien in

Exclusively for Magma, he considers the issue’s theme of freedom as it relates to a famous poem by W.B. Yeats.

by W.B. Yeats

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

My first thought on freedom and poetry is “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Which is odd, perhaps, as it’s a poem of retreat from the world, albeit the freedom to do so. I’m sure most poets know it, or vaguely recall it. It’s early Yeats, and somewhat embarrassing to me the way early Beatles can embarrass me. That is, only slightly, and forgivably. It’s the poem of a very young man.

I grew up in suburban New York in a large, neurotic family afraid to leave the house. As a child poetry was my escape, and I dreamed of escaping in reality, or from reality, which I did as soon as I finished school. (“I will arise and go now” says the poet twice; so this is a poem of travel too, an invocation, almost an incantation, the word “there” repeated I forget how many times.) I acted in a David Mamet play in an amateur theatre in Cork City. I sat in pubs and scribbled poems.

Of course I had to come home, to responsibility, to the “pavements grey” and eventually my real writing. But there had been something necessary, if comical, in living out this fantasy of freedom. Near the end of my time in Ireland I walked the four miles from the bus stop in Gort to Thoor Ballylee (or “Bally Phallus,” as Pound liked to call it), paid my entrance fee, toured the damp stone tower giddily, mumbling Yeats’s lines to myself, climbed the winding stairs and, just as I was about to step out on the roof for a triumphal view—whacked my head on the lintel and saw stars.

Dan O’Brien’s debut poetry collection War Reporter received the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize. His second collection, Scarsdalewas published Nov. 7th 2014 by CB Editions.

This article first appeared in The Mix, Magma’s poetry newsletter. You can sign up here. To read Dan’s poems in Magma 60 on the theme of ‘Freedom’, you can subscribe

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Nine bean rows take some tending – not a lot of ‘peace dropping slow’, more like black fly swarming thick and fast. Yeats the Late was a lot better than Yeats the Young but I don’t think he ever lost his youthful illusions. Living in a tower? Thanks for the comic tale – it fits well with the unintentional comical aspects of the poem (for anyone who’s ever grown vegetables, or been young – past tense required).

  2. The poem symbolizes an inward journey, from a place of noise and disturbance to a place of serenity, from a mood of humiliation, confusion and fear to a state of clarity and from an explosive glittering human mind to a state of transcendence. The use of nine bean rows, bee loud glade… signify his deep longing for his native land where his innocent childhood blossomed into the world of awareness.

    Thank you

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