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 gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
W.B. Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,”
Last Sunday, as part of the 9th Works-In-Progress reading at Buffalo Street Books, local writer and journalist Bill Chaisson read an essay from what he calls his “quasi-botanical, but increasingly memoiristic blogs.” Although Chaisson’s subject was the Atlantic and not an Irish island in Lough Gill, Chaisson spoke with a yearning and fidelity that echoed Yeats’s sentiment in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
Chaisson’s essay opened with an anecdote: a woman once asked him, at a party, what the landscape is that connects with you most. “Or,” Chaisson said, “maybe she didn’t ask me that. I don’t remember the question, but I remember what it meant.” The distinction between memory of the question and memory of its meaning resembles Chaisson’s attachment to the landscape he chose: “any region that borders the North Atlantic.” He may not remember exactly how such an attachment formed, but he remembers what it meant – and means.
Chaisson grew up near Boston; the woman at the party grew up in the Finger Lakes region – which also happened to be the landscape she loved the most. Yeats lived on Innisfree as a young boy. Chaisson refrained from citing childhood as the defining period for forming this unshakable bond to a landscape. He did say, however, that when you grow up in a place, its physiography becomes imprinted on your innermost self – Yeats called it “the deep heart’s core.” Because of this, Chaisson said, “the identity of the place becomes something against which all others are measured.”
“Any region that borders the North Atlantic” is an expansive landscape to choose, if you’ve got to choose just one. Unlike Yeats, whose clay and wattles and bee-loud glade were firmly anchored in Innisfree, Chaisson feels the same ecstasy of the North Atlantic’s “black, rumbled moodiness” whether he encounters it at Mt. Desert Island, the Isle of Skye, the coast of Norway, or Prince Edward Island. Chaisson writes that this landscape affects him on a level so deep as to be almost genetic, and indeed, he remembers his father being similarly bound: “It was as if my father were a plant, and the ocean were the sun.”
As a fellow New Englander, born and bred, this lifelong love of a place – and the idea of a place – is no stranger to me. For me, two landscapes are tied for first. They couldn’t be more opposite: the craggy coastline of a tiny Maine town “way up north,” and the cultural Elysium of London. But the feeling is the same: something against which all others are measured. Yeats knew it, the woman at the party knew it, Chaisson knows it.
I haven’t yet read any other essays of Chaisson’s, but his bio for the reading mentioned that “he intends to collect [them] between covers with accompanying artwork.” I’m looking forward to it.
Until then, Chaisson can be found at his blog, www.flowertropes.com.