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.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
William Butler Yeats
Over the past couple of decades I’ve found myself living in some pretty frenetic places, cities such as Istanbul and Accra, and now London. In these places noise has become a common feature of everyday life and one I loathe with a vengeance. Blaring music in shops, pubs and restaurants … the last time I met people for dinner I couldn’t hear a word they said to me … aircraft roaring overhead, the thump, thump, thump of personal stereos on public transport, ever-growing numbers of dogs barking endlessly, both in private and public spaces, blasting car horns and noisy motorbikes ripping down quiet streets at night … the list is endless and the racket seems to grow louder all the time as people lose consideration for each other in these individualistic times. Call me oversensitive … and I don’t care if you do … but I hate noise!
The Lake Isle of Innisfree has long been one of my favourite poems, so much so that some years ago I visited there and found it to be as peaceful as Yeats described it. While living in Istanbul I would read his words and weep, totally identifying with those final two lines … for I too could ‘hear it in the deep heart’s core.’ And, since coming to live in London, with all its noisy aggravations, I have reread the poem many times. Here, peace does not come dropping slow. Sometimes I feel like following Wittgenstein’s example. He was so frustrated by noise that he took himself off to Norway and built a hut on an island in a fjord, accessible only by boat. Later in his life he rented a cottage in Rosroe in Ireland, a place he described as ‘one of the last pools of darkness in Europe’. I’ve been there, and I fully understand why he chose to write his Philosophical Investigations in such an isolated spot. Blessed silence lay over the little hamlet like a thick duvet.
Fortunately for me, my family still lives in rural Ulster, in the shadow of the Mournes. So, you might think, I can retreat there when it all gets too much. Believe me, I have tried. In the heart of County Down, with its green fields and peacefully grazing sheep and cattle, its empty skies and scudding clouds, surely peace can be found?
Wrong, dear reader. If you think the countryside is quiet, think again. Those empty skies are no longer empty and there is now a flight path over my family’s home. Granted the planes are much higher in the sky … in our previous home in London they were so low we could wave to the passengers … but nonetheless, on a quiet morning, their drone is easily distinguishable. Then there are the tractors and other heavy agricultural machinery, particularly around harvest time. Yes, I know such work is part and parcel of our agricultural heritage but must it go on from dawn until dark? The racket fills the air as much as the dust from the chaff. And there is another issue with tractors … for it seems that once they start running the ignition can’t be turned off. The farmer across the road starts up his tractor at first light and it sits in his yard with the engine turning over noisily for most of the morning. Why? Perhaps one of you has the answer? In addition, this farmer has a generator that is often set running on the quietest of evenings. His next-door neighbour has a large workshop, unfortunately facing my bedroom, and loves nothing better than to carry out a bit of heavy steel work, or lorry repair, on a warm summer’s evening. The birdsong just can’t compete. The cricket’s song or the linnet’s wings don’t stand a chance.
And there is more. For here too, in the countryside, there are dogs. Many, many dogs. Sometimes I see the point of this. You’ve got sheep, so you want a sheepdog. Or, if you live in an isolated farmhouse and you’re away all day working, a guard dog is essential. Burglary is, unfortunately, common in these parts. But, the private home across the road? Must they have two barking, howling dogs that literally never shut up? We nicknamed these delightful creatures Kill and Bill, after the Tarantino film. For Kill had a habit of venting his frustration on Bill when anyone or anything came into sight. He couldn’t bite the intruder, so he’d bite poor Bill instead, leaping upon him and sinking his fangs into his back. Mind you, their frustration is understandable, for they are never permitted to leave the yard. It seems to me there is a different attitude to animals in the countryside than the city. Here they serve a practical purpose. They are not simply pets and often are not treated as such.
Unfortunately the list does not finish there. It is endless. There is the crow-scarer … waking you at half-hourly intervals throughout the night for weeks on end. The first time I heard it I thought someone was taking potshots at me. Boy racers also abound in the country, for here the empty roads are an invitation to such lads (and it usually is lads). It’s not unusual to hear the roar of a motorbike or a twin-exhaust at four o’clock in the morning, as the speed monsters take to the empty lanes for their own version of the Monaco Grand Prix. Add to this list souped-up cars (much loved in the country), quad bikes, angle-grinders, power tools of all descriptions, cows roaring (yes, cows can roar very loudly), roosters crowing, and you start to get the picture.
There is only one answer. I shall have to move to Innisfree and live there in my own small cabin. Just one thing before I take that step. If anyone from Innisfree happens to read this blog can you let me know if peace is still ‘dropping slow’ there?
I have a terrible feeling I already know the answer to that question … I wonder what WB would think of it all?