What the Heck is a Wattle!?
In high school, we read a poem titled “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by William Butler Yeats. I’ll admit, I read this poem as part of required reading, and probably skimmed over anything I didn’t know. If I ever knew what a “wattle” was, I certainly didn’t remember for today’s post. If you had asked me (without using it in a sentence) “What is a Wattle?” I would have guessed:
- (a) The loose skin under my chin. (Yes, but no.)
- (b) A bird. (Close! There is such a thing as a wattle-eye.)
- (c) A group of birds. (Maybe I was thinking “wattle” is to “wattle-eyes” as “gaggle” is to “geese?”)
This whole “wattle” interrogation stems from yesterday’s call for poems. First to reply was Caroline Tanski, the writer who sparked my own return to the blog with National Poetry Month. She shared “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats.
Please take a moment to read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” then return for this “wattle” discussion. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
After reading the poem, you might correctly guess that I would not want to make a cabin of either loose chin-skin, or birds. (Unless maybe I am in the weird, creepy imagination of Thomas Harris, or Tim Burton.)
So…what is a “wattle?”
Well, it turns out I’m surrounded by wattles. They’re everywhere. (They don’t even know they’re wattles.)
Wattles, here in Africa, are acacia trees. Doesn’t it seem rather odd that Yeats chose a tree which grows in Australia and Africa, for his cabin in Ireland? I did a quick search to see if “wattle” may have referred to something other than a type of tree during the time of Yeats, but didn’t find anything other than those “exotic” trees. So why, then, would Yeats pick a tree from such a faraway place for his vision of a cabin on a lake in Ireland???
The acacia tree is a Freemason symbol, representing purity, as well as resurrection and immortality. There is certainly peace in that imagery. And a quick search showed me that Yeats was…wait for it…a Freemason.
Whatever your (or his) interpretation of “wattle,” or of the rest of the poem, there is certainly no end to the obsession with Yeats and ways of paying tribute to this poem. I just discovered there is an ARCHITECTURAL COMPETITION, to create Yeats’ vision this year, for his 150th birthday. Anybody up for a trip to Ireland this June…?
My own interpretation would be something like the little huts of old Africa, which are literally, simply, made of “clay” and “wattles.”
So in honor of Caroline’s pick, today’s photo poem is (what else?) an acacia tree. When we first moved here, we would see these amazing trees and, not knowing what they were, just nicknamed them “Africa Trees.” Even after learning the name, “Africa Tree” is still our name for them.
Today I’m working on a poem of my own, going out of my comfort zone into a little formalism, inspired by the rhyme and meter of Yeats’ “Innisfree.”
How about you?
Did you enjoy the Yeats poem?
Does breaking down a single word in a poem enhance the experience of poetry for you, or detract from it?
Are you writing for National Poetry Month?
If you missed out on suggesting a poem yesterday, there’s plenty of time. Just add your suggestion to the comments below.
* “Boom. Done.” I could not resist adding this. Language is just so much fun. In this case, “boom” represents the lowering of the beam/boom to finalize the topic, as well as the explosion of information. But moreover, the word, “tree,” in the Afrikaans language, is “boom.” This of course, comes from Dutch heritage, which supposedly borrowed it from Scotland (meaning tree, pole, beam). So yeah, “Boom. Done.” (At which point, I can hear my brother shouting “Boom. Dork.”)
FYI, I am so grateful to have seen a venomous “boomslang” in the wild. It is a beautiful, poisonous snake, and I always thought it had the coolest, most ominous name: “Boomslang!” Having read that a boomslang flings itself from one tree to another, dropping down on its prey from above, to inflict a single, lethal bite, I had envisioned “boom” as the explosive, lethal force of the snake, and “slang” as perhaps another expression of “sling” for the manner in which it throws itself.
Sadly, this deadly reptile’s name translates, simply, as: “tree snake.”