The Voice of W.B.Yeats

W,B.Yeats (1865-1939) Photograph by Howard Coster

In preparation and anticipation of a whole series of readings from, and remarks on, W.B.Yeats by Allen, (in tandem with the erudite and always entertaining Philip Whalen), here’s Yeats recorded voice (famously available on the old Caedmon records) and continuing into the digital age, and famously beginning with “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”. Here it is recorded in 1931 – and here it is recorded five years later – and here a third (1937) recording.

Here‘s Yeats introducing the poem on October 4, 1932:

“I’m going to read my poems with great emphasis upon their rhythm, and that may seem strange if you are not used to it. I remember the great English poet William Morris coming in a rage out of some lecture hall where somebody had recited a passage out of his “Sigurd the Volsung“.”It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble”, said Morris, “to get that thing into verse”. It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I am going to read, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose. I am going to begin with a poem of mine called “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, because, if you know anything about me, you will expect me to begin with it. It is the only poem of mine which is very widely known. When I was a young lad in the town of Sligo, I read Thoreau‘s essays and wanted to live in a hut on an island in Loch Gile called Innisfree, which means Heather-Island. I wrote the poem in London when I was about twenty-three. One day in the Strand, I heard a little tinkle of water and saw in a shop window a little jet of water balancing a ball on the top. It was an advertisement, I think, for cooling drinks but it set me thinking of Sligo and lake water. I think there is only one obscurity in the poem. I speak of noon as “a purple glow” [“there midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow”] I must have meant by that the reflection of heather in the water.”

Here‘s “The Fiddler of Dooney”, recorded that same year:

“A couple of miles from Innisfree, oh, four or five miles from Innisfree, there is a great rock called Dooney Rock, where I had often picnicked when a child, and when, in my twenty-fourth year, I made up a poem about a merry fiddler, I called him “The Fiddler of Dooney”, in commemoration of that rock and of all those picnics. The places mentioned in the poem are all places near Sligo.”

Even earlier, two stanzas from “Coole Park and Ballylee”, recorded in 1931

and here, from 1934, “The Song of the Old Mother

and here‘s a lecture for the BBC, recorded in 1936, “On Modern Poetry

and here, as a bonus, W.H.Auden on Yeats – with his elegy – “In Memory of W.B.Yeats” – “He disappeared in the dead of winter…..The day of his death was a dark cold day”


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