Download pdf

Table of Contents


Contact Information

‘I arise and go with William Butler Yeats…’
Cultural Dovetailing in Lorna Goodison’s Country Sligoville

By Lamia Tewfik


Old and new houses in Sligoville

Using Yeats’ book as a refuge from the pain of loss brings to mind the first line of the poem at hand: 'I arise and go with William Butler Yeats/ to country, Sligoville' (47) -also a rewriting of Yeats’ poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ (Modern British Poetry 1920) ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree’. The setting is also rewritten as the speaking voice takes Yeats for a stroll in the Jamaican Sligoville: ‘in the shamrock green hills of St. Catherine’ (47). Bringing the colour of the Irish flag to the Jamaican landscape is the beginning of an intricate dovetailing of the two worlds.  


The term ‘dovetailing’ as used here indicates a balance in the use of imagery and icons, as well as a reconciliation and affinity between the two cultural bodies. Rather than explain this as a form of ‘translocation’ or cross-cultural exchange as Jahan Ramazani does (Modernist Bricolage, 2006: 446), the present reading seeks to establish the notion of intentional embracing of diversity within Jamaica and the Caribbean at large - a process grounded in the daily lives of Caribbean people. Modernist notions such as 'mosaic' are often used to refer to texts that juxtapose diverse elements with the implication that these heterogeneous elements form, or should form, a sense of unity. Yet, in this case no unified picture is sought. The poem comes closer to being a cultural patchwork where contrasting flavours stand out and compete for the reader’s attention. 

Denise deCaires Narain views the process that takes place in this poem as an act of refusing unconditional devotion to canonical texts imposed by the education system, one that redefines the terms of a new relationship (2002:166). Yet this argument fails to acknowledge the unique bond that Lorna Goodison retains with Yeats as a poet, associated both with the moment of crisis in her life and the moment at which she began to write poetry.

Consideration of the non-conformist inclinations of Yeats as an Irish poet, as well as the historical bond between Irish and Jamaican transplanted cultures mentioned above, calls for an alternative reading of this poem. It is necessary in this case to adopt a method of reading that combines both external and internal devices. In other words it will be necessary to take into consideration, on the one hand, the above-mentioned personal link between Goodison and Yeats, and hence the ‘intention’ of the author in creating the poem, and on the other the multiple cultural allusions made by the poet, stemming from the context. These two dimensions will be continually traced and analysed at the level of the crafting of the poem. 

This technique is based on the proposal made by French theorist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, of a literary analysis that brings together internal and external methods of reading (Other Words 1990: 147). Such a technique takes into consideration both the mental, subjective directions of the author and the objective, social context within which the text takes shape - both of which are manifested at the level of the crafting. 

The persona in the poem metaphorically takes Yeats by the hand as they roam the landscape of Sligoville:

We walk and palaver by the Rio Cobre

till we hear tributaries

join and sing, water songs of nixies (47)

The Jamaican river Rio Cobre is set in the mind’s eye against Yeats’ ‘lake water’ in the above poem: ‘I will arise and go now, for always night and day/I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore’. Goodison’s ‘water nixies’ similarly bring to mind a myriad of Yeats-created creatures.

Next a process of storytelling is begun, where yet more cultural symbols and icons are juxtaposed:

Dark tales of Maroon warriors,

fierce women and men

bush comrades of Cuchulain.

We swap duppy stories, dark night doings.

I show him the link of the rolling calf’s chain

And an old hige’s salt skin carcass. (47)

Caribbean Maroon warriors and the legendary Irish Cuchulain share common qualities of courage and awe-inspiring fearlessness and are thus set side-by-side as comrades. Duppy (ghost) stories are also exchanged in another point of affinity where the rich corpuses of Caribbean and Irish ghost stories are dovetailed. A figure from a Caribbean duppy story is brought to life as the narrative voice shows Yeats the ‘rolling calf’s chain’- a goat-like duppy with glaring fire-breathing eyes that has a chain on its back producing a characteristic sound at its approach. The rolling calf in duppy stories does not hurt humans.

The voice then shifts to personal references connected to the lives of both Yeats and the narrative persona:

Love descended from thickets of stars

to light Yeats’ late years with dreamings

alone I record the mermaid’s soft keenings. (47)

The reference to Yeats’ famous poem ‘The Mermaid’ adds to the intricate web of intertextual references made throughout the poem. Reserving the right to trace the ‘keenings’ of the mermaid is an attempt by the narrative voice, not to overpower Yeats, but rather to establish a strong affinity between the poet who created the mermaid and the Jamaican persona who can ‘record’ her presence.

Intertextual links thus continue to permeate the poem, including a reference to Yeats’ ‘Salley Gardens’. Incidentally this reference is present in an earlier poem by Lorna Goodison as follows.

O Africans

in white dresses

in dark suits

at pleasant evenings.


Singing of the flow

of the sweet Afton

warning of false love

down by the Salley Gardens. (Flowers are Roses 1995: 62) [2]


1 - 2 - 3


Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 11 November 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Tewfik, Lamia, ‘"I arise and go with William Butler Yeats…": Cultural Dovetailing in Lorna Goodison’s "Country Sligoville"' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:3 (November 2007), pp. 225-230. Available online (, accessed .


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information