The brawling of a sparrow in the eaves,
The brilliant moon and all the milky sky,
And all that famous harmony of leaves,
Had blotted out man’s image and his cry.
A girl arose that had red mournful lips
And seemed the greatness of the world in tears,
Doomed like Odysseus and the labouring ships
And proud as Priam murdered with his peers;
Arose, and on the instant clamorous eaves,
A climbing moon upon an empty sky,
And all that lamentation of the leaves,
Could but compose man’s image and his cry.
I read this poem a couple times through to try to get a sense of what Yeats was conveying. I suspected that he was making references to Maud Gonne, and a quick search online confirmed this. So then I thought about what aspect of his love for Gonne might be causing him sorrow, and I suspect it is connected with the symbolism of the fall in the Garden of Eden.
There is a definite impression of Eden, especially in the first and third stanzas. The reference to “man’s image” implies the archetypal being embodied in Adam. Also, the image of the “famous harmony of leaves” conjures a vision of the innocent state of man in the Garden, contrasted by the “lamentation of the leaves” which may refer to the use of leaves by Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness after the fall.
I get the sense that Yeats felt like he sacrificed something deep and meaningful to himself for Maud, or else he became separated from her and left lost and adrift like Odysseus, trying to return to her. I am not sure, but there is a tangible feeling of sadness associated with his love for Gonne.