The Two Trees: by W. B. Yeats - Summary & Analysis

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      The poem comprises two stanzas, each of twenty lines. In the first stanza, the poet speaks of love, simplicity, innocence, beauty of nature and an artist’s faculty of creation. The symbol of holy tree, a recurring symbol in Yeats’ poetry, stands for the innocence, simplicity and spontaneity in human personality. These qualities enrich a man’s power to appreciate the beauty of nature, to love, to create. In this domain of innocence and spontaneity a truth blooms and prospers. This true love confers on a human being the quality of tenderness and care. In the second stanza, the poet exhorts his beloved not to see through the ‘bitter glass’. The ‘bitter glass’ symbolized a person’s intellectualism without humanity. Too much of reasoning and logic sometimes poison our mind and make the quintessence of simple truth a distant reality. Its effect an our mind is malignant, not benign. Under its effect innocence becomes fatal, the peaceful state of mind gets agitated, simplicity becomes elusive. This disturbance gives birth to cruelty, suspicion and fanaticism.

Critical Analysis


      The Two Trees was first published in a collection of poems The Rose (1893). It is a lyrical poem and like his some other early poems the inspiration behind it is Maud Gonne. The poem gives expression to Yeats’ exhortation to Maud Gonne to view the life sans intellectualism divorced from humanity and to uphold the essence of innocence that brings joy, love and peace in our mind.

Critical Appreciation

      The poem’s beauty lies in the rich uses of symbols. The symbol of ‘holy tree’ is biblical, it stands for benevolence, simplicity. In contrast to this benign symbol, ‘the bitter glass’ represents a person’s intellectualism devoid of humanity. It blurs our vision. Looking through this glass, the ‘holy tree’ appears distorted. It becomes malicious. Its root is hidden under snow resulting in the generation of doubts. Its branches are broken and leaves have turned black. The advocates of the evil convictions are ‘demons’. Their principles are clouded by dogmas. They cannot provide peace in mind but like an unrestful ‘raven’ flutters wings and aimlessly flies to and fro. Despair haunts them as they cannot find the real truth. Failure in their operations make them cruel and untender. A person under these influences loses the faculty for appreciation, and creation.

      Beside the biblical symbolism, we cannot miss out Yeats’ application of esoteric symbol. It can be interpreted even from that point of view. Yeats’ familiarity with Kabbalah is quite well-known. The ‘holy tree’ is here Sephirotic tree. It has two aspects—Sephiroth that is good and Olippoth which is evil. According to Kabbalah belief man is a microcosm who possesses both the qualities of good and evil. It is through nurturing these qualities a man experiences his life accordingly.


      Yeats’ application of complex symbols does not spoil the apparent simplicity of the poem. The diction is simple and not hard comprehend. The regular meter of the poem has enriched its lyrical Conclusion. The poem carries the particular traits of Yeats. His passion for symbolism, occult practices can be interpreted from the poem. Simplicity, one of the major characteristics of Yeats is also conspicuous in the poem.

Critical Explanation

Stanza I

L. 2. The holy tree—Symbolizing gay, and beauty. It is benevolent and benign aspect of human nature.
L..3-4. From joy....bear—Branches of the holy tree have originated from joy. The trembling flowers are all also the expression of this joy.
L. 5-6. The changing light—The fruits bore by this holy tree endows the stars with merry light.
L..7-8. The surety.....night—The root of this hidden tree provides assurance and guidance in the dark night thereby bringing peace in one’s mind.
L. 9-12. The shaking thee—Undulating movement of the waves is melodious like the shaking of the tree covered with leaves. The melodious commotion also inspires the poet to write exquisite lyrics for his beloved i.e. Maud Gonne.
L..12-16. There the Loves....ways—Love deities move around the holy tree a circular motion. The word ‘flaming’ refers to passion in love. The love deities revolves and sways around the holy tree like the leaves whirling in air.
L. 15. Gyring—revolving; L. 17. Shaken hair—hair is shaken due to gyration.
L. 18. And how....dart—The sandalled feet of the lover got the attribution ‘winged’ because they are moving in a circular motion. L. 19-20. Thine eyes heart—The warmth of innocent love brings a glow of tender care in his beloved’s eye. Once again the poet entreats his beloved to have a look at the holy tree that resides in her own heart.

Stanza II

L..21-23. Gaze no more.....pass—The poet now urges his beloved not to gaze in deceitful glass held before us by the wicked, sly and cunning spirits.
L. 25. Fatal image—In contrast to the ‘holy tree’ in the first stanza it is the ‘Fatal’, unholy image, which is malignant, appeal' in the mirror.
L..30-32. In the dim.....old—Images in the mirror is not clear rather hazy. They are not fresh, throbbing with energy but dull and fatigue. It is the creation of evil spirits, when they were dominant enough, to suppress what is good and holy.
L. 34. Ravens—A type of crow—sign of omen. Here it refers to intellectualism that lacks the innocence.
L. 38. L. 35. Flying.....wings—The thoughts influenced by logic and intellect devoid of humanity disturb our internal peace. It cry since it fail to solve our all queries in life. It give birth to cruelty and insatiable greed. These thoughts fail to provide any kind of solutions and keep on searching for the objects of its target. L. 38. Ragged— Rough.
L. 39. Alas.....unkind—A look in this bitter glass removes the glow of care in the eyes of the poet’s beloved and instills it with unkind, shrewd look.

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