The Desirability of Desire:
comparing and contrasting the use of longing in
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats and “Heaven” by Cathy Song
Cathy Song and W. B. Yeats are poets from completely different eras and cultural backgrounds. In spite of these initial differences their works are connected by a similar theme. Although the poems “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “Heaven” by Yeats and Song respectively are bound by the common theme of longing, their use of poetic expression, most importantly of diction, style and meter, leads the poems to be completely different from each other in tone.
The sense of longing that is prominently present in both poems is explained through ...view middle of the document...
The speaker in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, while bringing across a feeling of ardent longing, still seems to speak in a rather detached and observing manner. This, combined with the rather simple and straightforward metaphors used within the poem, makes for a figurative style that on the whole is not very complicated. The words are pretty, illustrative and never feel insufficient, but they nonetheless lack a certain urgency, lending the poem an air of faraway fantasy, a dream if you will. It is as if this longing for Innisfree holds no real life value for the poem’s speaker, but instead functions as reassuring mental image of what life could be, an imagining of better times in better places. Something quite different can be observed in “Heaven”, where the imagery is far less idealistic, making for a style that can be described as being more realistic. The comparisons that Song draws between her two different places (“Did a boy in Guangzhou dream of this / as his last stop?”, lines 24-25) and her view of the longed for China are more profound and complex than the ideas presented in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. This is to be expected in a poem that is as close to real life as “Heaven” is.
Analyzing the poems’ meter and rhythm leads to a similar observation as the one made above. Song chose to completely omit any kind of recognizable meter, which leads to the poem sounding like a genuine depiction of an actual person’s train of thought, not constructed but merely recounted, with the occasional addition of an afterthought. Yeats, on the other hand, chose the iambic meter as the most prominent sound effect, with various occurrences of phyrric feet throughout. This, again, steals away from the worldly relevance of the poem, because it doesn’t directly address the reader, seeming more like a private musing of the speaker’s.