The Two Trees

by: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Written and published in 1893, The Two Trees is one of many poems Yeats wrote to Maud Gonne. Yeats met Gonne, a tall, beautiful 23-year-old heiress, artist and Irish Nationalist, in 1889 and developed an obsessive admiration for her beauty and outspoken manner. This infatuation is believed to have had a major impact on both Yeats poetry and life as a whole.

The Two Trees is a contrast of Gonne’s inward and outward beauty. He begins the poem off: “Beloved, gaze in thine own heart, the holy tree is growing there”. Here Yeats is telling Gonne to understand why he loves her; she needs to look self-analysis the spirit of her nature (the holy tree). The second stanza starts with, “Gaze no more in the bitter glass…” in which Yeats is telling her not to be concerned with looks or outward appearance for they will fade in time. He wants her to love herself for the qualities she posses on the inside, much like he does.

It is believed that the two trees that Yeats refers to in this poem are the tree of knowledge and the Sephirotic tree of the Kabblah. Both of the trees are often referred to as the holy tree, which he tells Gonne she has growing inside.


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 metry 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 Joves 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 winged 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 ill 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.