September 16, 2010

A Poem for the Day: "The Two Trees" by William Butler Yeats

Love is a strange and murky thing, is it not?  As I grow older, I wonder if maybe it is really something that the Irish define best.  And I must wonder if William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) may have said it best in his loving and lilting poem, The Two Trees--
The Two Trees
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
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, through bewildered branches go
Winged Loves borne on in gentle strife,
Tossing and tossing to and fro
The flaming circle of our days,
The flaming circle of our life.
When looking on their shaken hair
And dreaming how they dance and 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
With broken boughs, and blackened leaves,
And roots half hidden under the snows
Driven by a storm that ever grieves.
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.


I encourage you to also listen to the heaven-sent voice of Loreena McKennitt sing this beautiful Yeats poem.  She has titled it, Ce He Mise le Ulaingt? (Who am I to Bear It?) on her album, The Mask and the Mirror.  It will make you weep with joy and sadness!  We all gaze in our own hearts.

The photograph I have attached, at upper right, is one I made of two old oak trees in the Sierra Foothills during the Christmas holidays of 2009.  The title of the image is Medusa's Children, and it seems to fit Yeats' poem just right somehow.  I encourage you to 'click' on the image for a larger view.  Enjoy!


  1. Great poem! Thanks for sharing. Every time I come by one of Yeatss poems I really enjoy them. I should look into getting a collection of his works.

  2. Chelle, I am so glad that you enjoyed this poem. It really is a good 'un, and means a lot to me too. Definitely check out a good collection of Yeats. He's worth it! Cheers! Chris

  3. I'm too often obsessed with "the ravens of unresting thought" to tend the garden of my heart properly. What a beautiful poem. Thank you for reminding me. (BTW--The photograph is amazing.)

  4. I have to confess I had to read it through about three times before it all started to sink in. Interesting analogy and Yeats is a marvel, no doubt about that. "Gaze no more in the bitter glass" - it seems to me Yeats is telling her to see herself as he sees her, the inner beauty rather than the beauty without which will inevitably fade. Not sure I agree this poem defines love best, however but it's interesting nonetheless. I adore Loreena McKennitt and your tree photograph is really perfect for this poem!

  5. It is 1am where I am at the moment and I just re-read my remarks...I meant to say that I really like the bitter glass line - great advice for anyone. I really should be asleep right now. :)

  6. Jan, I quite agree that this is not a poem in the traditional genre of 'romantic love' poetry. What Yeats says to me in these lines is more in the vein of the soulful and heartfelt commitment to love between two spirits over time. That is the 'Irishness' that I was alluding to here. Life and love--tinged with the touch of tragedy, eh? Thanks for the visit, and I hope you are enjoying your trip to the Netherlands! Cheers! Chris

  7. Lifetime Reader, thanks for stopping by, and for your comments. That second part of the poem is truly quite amazing; a lot to think about, aging, restlessness, loneliness, betrayal, and death.

    By the way, I am very much looking forward to following your reading adventure as you get started in January 2011. I shall be eagerly following you as you travel through these great books. I am reading The Oresteia right now and loving it! Cheers! Chris

  8. Beautiful poem! By the way Chris, I mentioned your blog in my post today! I like to give unsolicited blurbs for my favorite blogs, and yours is one of the best!

  9. Oh, and I can't wait to read your review of Adam Bede. I would love to just sit down and read nothing but Eliot for about a month.

  10. Wow, I love that photograph! The one that you posted on Sep. 5 is really nice too.

    It's been a long time since I pondered poetry - I'm going to have to print this off and read it a few more times.

  11. The poem is sublime. The setting by Loreena McKennitt is abhorrent and should be avoided at all cost, she totally misses the point of the Yeats.

  12. what does a lover told his/her beloved in this poem?