The two Trees

Beloved, gaze in thine own heart, 
From joy the holy branches start
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
The changing colours of its fruit
Have dowered the stars with merry light;
The surety of its hidden root
Has planted quiet in the night;
The shaking of its leafy head
Has given the waves their melody,
And made my lips and music wed,
Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
There the Loves a circle go,
The flaming circle of our days,
Gyring, spiring to and fro
In those great ignorant leafy ways;
Remembering all that shaken hair
And how the wingèd sandals dart,
Thine eyes grow full of tender care:
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.
Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged wings; alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. The poem “The two Trees”, like many that are addressed to Maud Gonne, suggests that the beloved look within herself to the spirit of her nature. Further, she should shun the mirror, which captures her external appearance. Her appearance, though beautiful now, will fade with age. Her “inner tree”, though, will never grow any less beautiful. On a more arcane level, the holy tree could refer either to the tree of knowledge or to the Sephirotic tree of the Kabbalah. The Sephirotic tree resonates with both good and evil. This poem would fit with the Kabbalic notion of man, which is divided between good and evil. Looking in a glass makes the tree into its reverse image, barren and threatening. Yeats was certainly familiar with the Kabbalah from his theosophic practices.

“The Two Trees” first appeared in William’s second publication, The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics (1892).

Three of William Butler Yeat’s poems have been movingly set to music by Canada’s multi-instrumentalist singer-composer, Loreena McKennitt (born February 17, 1957): “Down by the Salley Gardens,” “The Stolen Child,” and “The Two Trees.” “The Two Trees” was featured on Loreena’s fifth album, The Mask and Mirror(1994).

External link:
W. B. Yeats (Wikipedia)

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