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

My Guilty Pleasure: Petra

I know that a few of you, my online friends, are musicians or at least knowledgeable about music. So perhaps I am about to embarrass myself.

I love Petra.

They are a late 80s/early 90s Christian rock band, and somehow all of the singers on the band seem to be tenors (I like that, too). I don’t know. Maybe my taste is bad, but I just love their music. I listened to it — and actually worshipped to it — a lot in high school.

In the 90s, I had the album below (Unseen Power) on cassette tape. The cover bore a picture of a white, power-generating windmill against a clear blue sky (because unseen power, get it?). The upshot was that I was listening to this song, In the Likeness of You (Psalm 17:15), back then in circumstances exactly like the ones I’m in now: in the middle of an Idaho winter, when the landscape is severe and almost monochromatic, but the distant horizons draw your eye to their ethereal beauty … not unlike the soaring harmonies of Petra. And the song has the exact same effect on me now as it did then.

So here they are, in all their shaggy-mullet glory. Enjoy.

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!

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.

Quote: When Good Poets Go Bad

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the following quote, Fiver, a sensitive rabbit, has just heard an evocative poem recited by another rabbit, in an underground hall.

They followed Fiver up the run and overtook him at the entrance. Before either of them could say a word, he turned and began to speak as though they had asked him a question.

“You felt it, then? And you want to know whether I did? Of course I did. That’s the worst part of it. There isn’t any trick. He speaks the truth. So as long as he speaks the truth it can’t be folly — that’s what you’re going to say, isn’t it? I’m not blaming you, Hazel. I felt myself moving toward him like one cloud drifting into another. But then at the last moment I drifted wide. Did I say the roof of the hall was made of bones? No! It’s like a great mist of folly that covers the whole sky: and we shall never see to go by Frith’s light any more. Oh, what will become of us? A thing can be true and still be desperate folly, Hazel.”

Watership Down, pp. 111 – 112

Scots Gettin’ Sentimental

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days o’auld lang syne?

We twa hae paidelt in the burn Frae mornin’-sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes, And pu’d the gowans fine;

We’ve wander’d mony a weary foot, Sin’ auld lang syne.

And here’s a hand, my trusty fere, And gi’es a hand o’ thine;

We’ll tak’ a richt gude willie waught For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup, And surely I’ll be mine,

We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet For the sake o’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne my dear, For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

Seventy Scottish Songs, ed. Helen Hopekirk, 1992. pp. 128 – 131

And the translation (done with the help of the source’s glossary):

Should our old friends be forgot, and never remembered?

Should our old friends be forgot, and the good old days?

The two of us used to paddle in the brook from dawn until dinner-time,

But the wide seas have come between us since those good old times.

The two of us used to run all over the hills and pick all the daisies,

[But] we have wandered much farther than that, since those good old times.

Now take my hand, my trusty comrade, and give me your hand too;

We’ll take a draught to show our good will for [each other and] those good old times.

And surely you’ll [drink out of] your pint-flagon, and I’ll [drink out of] mine,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet for the sake of those good old times.