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

By Lamia Tewfik


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
(Unknown artist, 1933)

Africans appear in the same setting as that of Yeats’ poem, wearing ‘white’ dresses contrasting with their blackness, bringing to mind the snow-white feet of Salley in Yeats’ poem. There is a sense of mingling between the cultures of Africans and Europeans: 'To the melodies of Europe/roll the rhythms of the Congo', and a bringing together of the constructs of both cultures by this juxtaposition: 'a marriage mixed/but a marriage still' (62).

The ultimate expression of affinity appears in evocation of the persona’s dead mother:

William Butler, I swear my dead mother

embraced me. I then washed off my heart

with the amniotic water of a green coconut. (Turn Thanks 1999: 47)

Leaving out the last name of Yeats while referring to this profound moment of reconciliation with the memory of the dead mother, followed by the quasi-ritual cleansing process with the sweet-tasting water of a coconut, presents a supreme moment of amalgamation of the two cultures. The fact that the coconut is green retains that link that is preserved throughout with one of the colours of the Irish flag transferred to the Jamaican landscape. 

Yeats himself is also made to experience a similar sense of resolution:

In December Sally water will go down

to the Sally gardens with her saucer

and rise and dry her weeping orbs.

O to live, Innisfree, in a house of wattle and daub [sic].

In Yeats’ poem it is the narrative voice that cries: ‘…But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears’, yet here a personified ‘Sally water’ will visit the Salley gardens and dry her tears. This sharing and ensuing resolution complete the sense of serenity that is established in the poem. The reference is then returned back to Yeats’ first poem in the line ‘O to live, Inisfree, in a house of wattle and daub’ that alludes to Yeats’ lines:

…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

This sets up the above lines as a suitable sequel for ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ - one that involves an overwhelming serenity and sense of resolution.

The condensation of imagery and cultural allusions in this poem sets it apart as an ideal example of the ability to dovetail seemingly contradictory elements to create a new type of beauty. The patchwork of traditions intricately woven together without privileging one colour or flavour over the other is testimony to the craft of Goodison. The poem represents a reflection of the close bond between Irish and Jamaican cultures - a bond that is part of the context from which the poet emerges.

This poem reflects Derek Walcott's historical call for a rejection of both the literatures of ‘revenge’ and ‘remorse’ through a powerful embracing of the multiple elements with which the region's cultural history is invested (Walcott 1974: 354). The strength with which Goodison articulates the elements retrieved form her cultural bag-of-tricks is admirable as she creates an eloquent persona that shows Yeats a new path of serenity and reconciliation - a favour that Goodison is returning, many years after herself finding peace in Yeats’ book.

The success in not privileging either one of the two cultures represents a case of ‘aesthetic detachment’ called for by Pierre Bourdieu (Rules 1996: 75). This success provides testimony to a high level of skill on the part of the poet as she objectively utilises all the resources available in the space within which she exists.

Lamia Tewfik


[1] The author’s research interests include Caribbean women’s literature, postcolonial literature, and gender and power manifestations in texts.

[2] 'Down by the Salley Gardens' is published in An Anthology of Modern Verse. Ed. A. Methuen. London: Methuen & Co., 1921. Available online: at (2002) ( accessed January 2006.


- Bourdieu, Pierre, In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology, Trans: M. Adamson. (London: Oxford, Polity Press, 1990).

- Bourdieu, Pierre, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, Trans.: Susan Emanuel. (London: Oxford. Polity Press, 1996).

- DeCaires Narain, Denise, Contemporary Caribbean Women's Poetry: Making Style (London: Routledge, 2002).

- Goodison, Lorna, To Us, All Flowers are Roses (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995).

- Goodison, Lorna, Turn Thanks (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999).

- Goodison, Lorna, Email Interview with Lamia Tewfik (unpublished, Feb. 2004 - Jan. 2005).

- Ramazani, Jahan, ‘Modernist Bricolage, Postcolonial Hybridity’. in Modernism/Modernity, 13:3 (2006), pp. 445-463.

- ‘Twinning Suitors Line Up’ in The Sligo Champion. Available online (, cited 28 September 2007.

- Walcott, Derek, 'The Muse of History', in Alison Donnell and Sarah Lawson Welsh (eds.) The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature (London, New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 354-358.

- Yeats, William Butler, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, in Untermeyer, Louis (ed.), Modern British Poetry (New York, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920) Available online (, cited 15 September 2007.


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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 .


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