“I will arise and go now …. ”

I wanted to ask if the name of the orchard was Innisfree, but it seemed like joking with Sir Lancelot about the Holy Grail. We had been talking about flowers like old acquaintances gossiping about mutual friends. Instead of risking what might turn out to be a bad joke, I began telling him of a rare sight I had seen in Georgian Bay.

I was staying with friends at Honey Harbour and one day took a canoe and paddled by myself to nearby Beau Soleil Island which was Indian land and had no houses on it. From a small beach convenient for leaving the canoe I followed a trail across the height of land where a ten-foot wooden cross had been erected in a clearing in the woods. The trail led beyond and downwards to another beach, low and covered with round flat stones.

From springs somewhere on Beau Soleil water seeped across the beach to Lake Huron, glinting between the stones like the leading in a stained glass window. Near the lake’s edge was a vivid carpet of fringed blue gentian, fragile flowers on slender stems with meagre leaves and on the stones beneath the flowers green snakes lay sunning themselves, dozens and dozens of snakes coiled on the rocks above the seeping water. When I appeared suddenly at the trail’s end some snakes lifted their heads, and then all began to move, uncoiling from the stones and gliding towards the lake through the water. And as they moved among the stems the flowers swayed and rippled as though a breeze blew over them ….

I looked across the flowers at Mr. Yeats and he was absolutely still, his eyes staring at me but not seeing me. I knew that he was seeing fringed blue gentian rippling as green snakes slid past them—and then he came back to the garden and we stood staring at each other. He said, “Let us find some scones.” . . .


Photograph: William Butler Yeats, unknown woman, summer 1930; photo (detail) by Lady Ottoline Morrell.