April 12, 2016

Friday, April 18, 2014

Source Poems: "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.

Welcome, Poetry Friday readers! Poet, educator, and Poetry Friday regular (as a fan) Janet Fagal is today's guest blogger. 

Robyn Hood Black is hosting Poetry Friday at Life on the Deckle Edge today. Stop by for all the poetry links from our Poetry Friday blogging community.

Janet Fagal

Poems by Heart and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

If I were asked about my “source” poem 11 years ago, I would probably admit I did not have one. Maybe I would think back to my childhood and my mother and her love of poetry. I knew Masefield’s “Sea Fever” was one that mattered to her. She would recite it on occasion. But since I grew up on Long Island, New York and we were literally surrounded by water and boats, the sea was just part of life to me. The “call to return again” only happened when I grew up and moved away. Maybe my source poem comes because my mother taught me to recite all the Nursery Rhymes by the time I was 20 months old. But of course that is something I can’t recall, though I do know many of them by heart to this day. Both of these things, I believe set the stage for my love of poetry.
Photo: Janet Fagal
Naturally I became familiar with poems and liked some poems as I grew, but it wasn’t until the later 1980s and 1990s when, as a 5th grade teacher, I realized that poems were a good way to help my students get into writing. I wrote along with them and became a “closet” poet.

For me “poetry” often was that dark and confusing subject from high school. You know the experience, the way Billy Collins tells us how they tie the poem to the chair and beat it to reveal its core. I was young and naïve. How was I supposed to figure out what the poet meant? And I wanted the right answer; I was a good and dutiful student. If the poet was long gone, how could we know for sure what he or she really meant? Luckily, I saw the light before the end of my teaching career.

I embraced poetry as a teaching tool and for its sheer undiluted power as a genre. And then I fell in love. As one of my students wrote in a poem, “Poetry is everything.” And poetry was everywhere, almost every day in my 3rd grade room. Beginning in 2001, because of the way my students eagerly embraced every poem I shared, I began to integrate poetry across the curriculum close to daily. And what a blessing that became. I eventually realized that getting kids to recite together (choral expression) and learn poems by heart was easy, fun, and had “mega” educational potential. A long-time “kid watcher” I was astounded that my 8 and 9 year olds were game for learning almost any poem. And could do it so effortlessly and joyfully. I have since referred to poetry as the “biggest bang for the education buck” for busy teachers and happy children.

Alas, I knew no poems by heart and had no source poem. That changed. After maybe 3 years of not forcing myself to practice the poems, I began to notice that I was learning some of them. And parts of others. Once I had a few by heart, others came along more easily. I began to use reciting poems to myself for many things: falling asleep at night, entertaining myself through dental procedures or on long car trips, and sharing with students or friends.

But the poem I come back to most often is William Butler Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” One of my third graders introduced it to me for her project on Ireland. I can’t honestly recall if I had heard that poem before Olivia shared it with the class. Since then this poem has taught me so much. As I say it again and again, I pause and reflect at different spots. I stress different lines in different ways. It rhymes, has a nice flow, is a “classic”.

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.

What it speaks to is my childhood, as well as my now. It forces me to remember the places that matter. When the world is too much, I can say the poem silently and instantly transport myself to my own Innisfree. I have a few spots to choose from: a cozy cottage on a little harbor in Maine, the beach at Chappaquiddick or on Long Island, a view of the New Hampshire mountains that I can never forget (found because of a detour we were forced to take on a country road), or my grandmother’s house back in the 50s in East Hampton, before it became “The Hamptons”, sitting in the green tree swing or Adirondack chairs my grandfather, Rob Dunbar made. All are snapshots of times and places that brought me so much happiness that I didn’t realize at the time.

Photo: Janet Fagal
Just thinking about the poem brings peace. But that is not all. Once I arrive at my own Innisfree, I get busy. I can build a cabin, plant a garden, and live in a “bee-loud glade.” Just like Yeats, when I am somewhere that overwhelms, I can recall the sound of the water in the lake, gently lapping at the shoreline or hear the roar of waves crashing. I commune with nature and appreciate it all. I can see the stars at night, feel the warmth of noon, enjoy sunset and watch the birds at dusk.

It also helps me feel determined. I WILL arise and go now. I will choose. I like how I feel that I have the power to get away from my crowded, sometimes overly-busy life and find respite. And then at the end, I experience a connection over time and place, from deep in my heart and am back with my grandparents, old friends, new friends and my family. And I smile. The words play over in my mind and I travel yet again.

This source poem makes me notice and appreciate. While it has been a long time since I have physically been to most of my special places, I know them intimately from this poem. I hold my grandmother’s hand while we clam at the bay, play in the waves with my father, sit on the deck with my husband and watch the lobsterman and sailboats as they come and go. And when I write my own poems I find that I incorporate the special places that let my spirit soar and surround me with the love and goodness of the people who raised and cared for me in the best way they could. I remember my father’s words spoken on one of our month-long family camping or boating trips. “I have taken you all over this country showing you its natural beauty and today is the first time I have heard you admire the beauty of nature on your own.” We were on Lake Champlain and I looked east at the pretty sky and clouds and mountains in the distance. It was after a bad storm, nearing sunset. I was in college and I was proud.

Photo: Janet Fagal
I know now that I gave my father a gift that day. And what I have learned from my source poem most is that it is important to pause and reflect on what matters most to you. Whatever it may be. And to appreciate all of the good fortune you may have had in life. This may not be new news or a deep “aha” buried in a poem, but my source poem, which I carry with me always, never fails to bring me a deep sense of contentment.

William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
Find out more at the Poetry Foundation.
Janet Fagal is a retired teacher who lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. A published poet, Janet’s poems can be found on the NLAPW’s website (National League of American Pen Women) and in their recent anthology: Spirit, Peace and Joy as well as in their magazine The Pen Woman. Two of Janet’s poems were recently honored in a national poetry contest. She speaks at national and state education conferences where she shows teachers how putting poetry at the heart of the literacy classroom is an important and powerful way to improve children’s love of words, ideas and literacy. Don’t underestimate your power to memorize. It is easier than you can imagine.

Here is a link to a 3 minute video of her students reciting poems, some of which were written by her students.

Previous posts in this series:
Diane Mayr on a haiku by Basho
Dennis Kirschbaum on "Rain" by Robert Louis Stevenson


Margaret Simon said...

Such a wonderfully expressed journey to a source poem and to poetry in general. I love how Janet instills a love of poetry in her students so young. They will always have poetry in their hearts and that will make them stronger.

Patricia VanAmburg said...

I used to have a (scratchy) recording of Yeats reading that in his own voice. The rhyme was very pronounced. He explained that he had a devil of time getting the rhyme into the poem so he was going to read it like it mattered.

Buffy Silverman said...

I love Janet's description of this poem as one that speaks to her childhood and to her now. Here's a link to a recording of Yeats reading the poem:

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Thank you, Janet, for having a real impact on me today with this post. I felt it in my heart. You made me remember things I haven't thought about in years, and the whole notion of reciting a poem to oneself as a soothing and loving gesture is one that hit home. Feeling grateful to both you and Laura.

Tara said...

What a treat to visit here and learn so much about what inspires and nourishes you, Janet. And I loved learning how Yeats' poem serves as a source for you.

Linda B said...

I'm glad Buffy shared the link to Yeats reading this poem, Janet. I've shared it before & it is special. I love hearing your journey from teacher of a few classes to teacher of many. Your work with students is wonderful. I love hearing the 'whole' story, too, and especially that small moment with your father that turned out to be a large one. Thanks for a special post.

Robyn Hood Black said...

Yes, thank you, Janet, for sharing your heartfelt journey (some important parts of it, anyway!) and thanks to Laura for this series.

"This source poem makes me notice and appreciate" - that's the first task for all of us, isn't it? With appreciation for your putting these thoughts into words, and into a story.

skanny17 said...

I have a Sound Cloud post of me reciting the poem and I found out that I made a mistake. Must re-record asap! But here is my link to get the feel of my "tone".
I did listen to Yeats a while ago and also yesterday. His voice sounds so severe to me, but it probably was done on an early recording machine. I love how poetry allows us to bring in our own voice, our own reaction and our own twist. If someone wants to truly explain their "argument" they use an entirely different form of writing. I love how poetry is a gift to us to enjoy, ponder and revisit. Thanks for all the lovely comments. I am inspired by my friends on the Kidlitosphere; so grateful to have "met" all of you. Oh, and a part I forgot that came back today. My father actually said, "I can see you are growing up. I have taken you all over this country and this is the first time you have ever admired the beauty of nature." It was his affirming my growing up that really made me proud. Parents often do not realize how much their words mean and matter and linger. That was one of his many gifts to me.
Janet F.

Violet N. said...

Janet describes her journey with detail and heart. I've never thought of adopting a source poem, but can think of several that might volunteer.

I loved the video of the students reciting. They looked so engaged, like they were enjoying every minute of having the audience in the palm of their hands (well, voices actually).

GatheringBooks said...

What a wondrous journey to fall in love with words and awaken this passion with young kids too. Just having a third grader recommend a William Butler Yeats poem is already something else. The video clip is gorgeous. What an inspiring post. I shall share this poem with a writer-friend who's celebrating her birthday today.

Liz Steinglass said...

This is just lovely. Thank you for sharing the power of this poem in your life. What a contrast between what you've written here and the high schooler's analysis of the author's tools. I am now convinced. I will choose a poem and memorize it.

Tabatha said...

Loved this post! Beautifully put. There is also a musical version:

skanny17 said...

Oh, Liz, it means a lot to hear your kind comments and I am so happy to read you are joining the poetry by heart club. If you need any pointers, let me know. It is so easy once you get the hang of it, whatever way it works best for you. I think our ability to learn poems by heart is much wider than we can imagine!

skanny17 said...

Thank you so much for your nice comments and the link for the video! It is such a beautiful and different voice and interpretation. I love having it!
I hope you will think about learning some poems by heart! (If you don't already know some...)

skanny17 said...

Oh, Myra, yours words are so kind and I am happy you will share this lovely poem with your friend. This will be the 10th group to have a poetry night. Each year we have the same wonderful hour. It is magical. The third graders simply fall in love with poetry. Now as a retired teacher when I arrive at the door for my visits (I volunteer in a colleague's class) I get the same reaction! They say, "oh yay! she's hear, we get to do poetry." Bear in mind they are not cheering for me. They love reciting and having fun with poetry. It is a starting point for so much happy teaching and learning.

skanny17 said...

Thank you, Violet, for your comments and so happy you enjoyed the video. It is such a delight to bring poetry to children and see them embrace it with their whole hearts. So glad this may help you discover your source poem(s). I think I have one or two others, but this one comes to mind so often and so many ways that I didn't even get to! I love the imagining!

skanny17 said...

I was so touched by your comment and that it brought back important memories. Start small or big, depending on what you like and I encourage you to learn a few poems by heart just see. I bet they will grow in connection for you over time. I have lots by heart now. Frost's The Road Not Taken is so well known, but when you say each word to seems to me to really have a powerful impact. I love Jabberwocky for its playfulness and the language. I even have almost all of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. It needs some tweaking, but I try not to pressure myself. I have tips if you are interested!! It is easier than you think.
Happy poeting,

Renee LaTulippe said...

Thank you for this lovely post, Janet, and for sharing your journey with and through and around this marvelous poem. It is a special one, indeed, and it was wonderful to see how you live it.

Unknown said...

Beautiful journey back into time and childhood and the things that have made us who we are. Thank you for sharing.