Time for some Poetry!

Last week, I had the pleasure of reading, and discussing with a class of children, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats.

Now, Yeats was such a prolific playwright and poet, and he had such a complicated — not to say convoluted — personal philosophy, that in my university days I actually took an entire class just about Yeats. And I didn’t become an expert, either. Taking a class just sort of orients you to the man. Anyway, perhaps I was a bad student, but I don’t recall reading this particular poem.

Yeats was almost a terrorist, but it turns out, he could write an evocative poem about the beauty of nature with the best of them. (Actually, there might be quite a few terrorists who could do that.)

I’m going to analyze the poem first, and then post it down below, so you can see the different elements coming and marvel at Yeats’ mastery of the language. But if you like your poetry straight, no appetizer, feel free to scroll down and read it first.

I could say a lot about finding peace in nature, and how far that’s a valid concept and what its limitations are, but I won’t. The impulse is universal enough that elementary school students can understand it. I’m sure you’ve felt it, and I’m sure you’ve had your own thoughts about it too. What I want to discuss is the masterful way that Yeats slows the reader down.

The most obvious way is his use of three stressed syllables at the end of a line. The first stanza ends with the words “bee loud glade,” and there is no way to read this except slowly and with emphasis. This is also true of the last three words of the poem, which will echo in the reader’s mind: “deep heart’s core.”

Secondly, Yeats makes you repeat yourself a lot. “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” Repeating the verb, and chaining it on to more detail, prevents the reader from hurrying the line, and it gives the impression that the speaker is rather relaxed. (Relaxed would not have been the first word I’d say, if you had said to me, “Yeats.”)

Finally — and I know this may sound a little strange — this poem has a lot of l’s. Glade, glimmer, linnet, slow, clay and wattles, lake water lapping, shall, will, while, always … the list goes on. L is not the easiest sound to say, as consonants go. You have to put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and leave it there for a moment, allowing the air to flow around it … much like water around an obstruction in a lake. Because [l] is voiced, it gives a warm, rich, liquid rather than an airy feeling. In fact, [l] is classified as a liquid, a consonant in which the air flow is not completely obstructed. As you read this poem that keeps forcing you to slow down a bit and to practice your l’s, you can almost feel the peace dropping over you.

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 the lake water lapping with the 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.

William Bulter Yeats

I’m a D— Fine Latin Teacher!

This is from an old Doonesbury comic by Gary Trudeau. My dad used to be a big Trudeau fan and had a large collection of his books. I devoured them as a kid, which I didn’t realize was giving me a very leftie view of modern American history. But it’s funny little human moments like the one above that make Trudeau (at least his older work) so appealing.

Interestingly, “Herbert” looks a bit like one of my Linguistics professors in college, except for the cigarette.

And now … I actually am a Latin teacher. And d— fine one.

I’d be snapped up in a minute.

Another Translated Christmas Song

The Indonesian Song

S’lamat, s’lamat datang, Yesus Tuhanku!

Jahu dari surga tinggi kunjunganmu.

S’lamat datang Tuhanku ke dalam dunia.

Damai yang Kau bawa tiada taranya.

Salam, salam!

Now, let’s give a literal translation

“Welcome, welcome, Jesus my Lord.” (Selamat datang means “welcome.” Selamat is like “congratulations” and datang is “come.” This song repeats the selamat, which is like saying, “very welcome.”)

“Far from heaven [on] high [was] your visit.”

“Welcome, my Lord, into the world.”

“[The] peace that You bring there-is-no comparison.”

“Greetings, greetings!”

And now, let’s make it rhyme

You are very welcome, Jesus Lord most high!

You came from such a distance to hear our cry.

Welcome, welcome, O my lord into this world of woe.

The peace that you have brought us is more than we can know.

Welcome, welcome!

When God Is in the Dative

This post is for language nerds.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Angels We Have Heard on High

gloria – nominative singular, “glory”

in excelsis – preposition in with ablative plural object excelsis, “in the heights.” (–is is an ablative plural ending)

Deo – dative of Deus. The dative case is for indirect objects; hence “to God”

O Come, All Ye Faithful Is Much Better in the Original Latin

Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant”

Venite, venite in Bethlehem

“Come, come into Bethlehem”

Natum videte, regem angelorum

“Born see, the king of angels”

Venite adoremus [3x]

“O come, let us adore him” [3x]


“The Lord”

Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine

“God from God, light from light” *(these are direct objects, so the subject and verb are coming up)

Gestant puellae viscera

“A girls’ innards carry” (the subject and verb, and by far my favorite line)

Deum verum

“True God” (and still the direct object)

genitum non factum

“Begotten, not made”

Refrain: Venite adoremus, Dominum “O come, let us adore/The Lord”

Cantet nunc io, chorus angelorum

“Sing it now, chorus of angels”

Cantet nunc aula caelestium

“Sing now, heavenly court”

Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo

“Glory, glory to God in the highest”

Refrain: “O come, let us adore/The Lord”

Ergo qui natus die hodierna

“Therefore, who is born on the day of today”

Jesu, tibi sit gloria

“Jesus, to you be glory”

Patris aeterni Verbum caro factum

“Word of the eternal Father made flesh”


See how the Latin is actually more direct/efficient than the English? Kind of shockingly so?

I think because the original Latin version had so many syllables, to translate the lines into English, additional words had to be added, and sometimes even new ideas such as “Yea, Lord, we greet thee,” which is how the fourth verse begins in English and is one of my favorite lines in that version.