Tag Archives: mirror

Thoughts on “The Two Trees” by William Butler Yeats

Picasso: 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 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.

According to the Eden myth, there were two trees in the Garden: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. In this poem, Yeats uses these two trees as symbols for the creative and the mortal aspects of the human psyche, respectively. The first stanza corresponds with the Tree of Knowledge, and the second stanza corresponds to the Tree of Life.

While the story of eating from the Tree of Knowledge is often interpreted as something negative, a rebellion and fall from grace, Yeats does not seem to see it this way. For Yeats, knowledge of good and evil is essentially what makes us godlike, and the true mystical power of god is the power to create. The first stanza is filled with imagery of growth and flowering, which symbolizes the blossoming of the creative spirit in an individual. He encourages the reader to “gaze in thine own heart,” because that is where the “holy tree” of creativity is rooted, within the deeper self.

Other metaphors that Yeats uses in the first stanza are music and circles. Music is a fairly standard metaphor for poetry, which Yeats attributes to the eating of the fruit from the first tree. The circle conjures images of pagan rituals, most likely Druid or Wiccan, but possibly also of the Golden Dawn. The circles, spirals, and gyres evoke a sense of ritual performed within a circle around a fire. Yeats would have likely believed that the development of spiritual and occult arts was a result of the symbolic eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

And this brings us to the second stanza, and the Tree of Life. It is important to keep in mind that the archetypal humans did not eat of this tree, and as such are destined to wither and die. The effects of this tree are manifested on the outside of a person, as opposed to the Tree of Knowledge which is internal. Hence the demons hold up “the bitter glass,” which is a mirror. Gazing in to it, one becomes aware of aging, of mortality, of impending death. All the symbols that Yeats uses in the second stanza—night, snow, broken boughs, blackened leaves, barrenness, ravens—are all associated with death.

So what is the larger message that Yeats is trying to convey here? It seems to me that he is encouraging us to shift our focus from our outer selves, away from the flesh and our mortality, and instead focus on the inner self, the spirit, the divine essence within all of us. We will die, that is inevitable; but we do not have to spend our lives worrying about getting old and dying. We should live full, spiritual, and creative lives, building loving relationships with others, and creating beauty for future generations.

Thanks for taking the time to read my reflections, and as always, please feel free to share yours in the comment area below. Cheers!

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“Man and the Sea” by Charles Baudelaire

Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky

Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky

Always, unfettered man, you will cherish the sea!
The sea your mirror, you look into your mind
In its eternal billows surging without end
And its gulfs are bitter, so must your spirit be.

You plunge with joy into this image of your own:
You hug it with your eyes and arms; your heart
Forgets for a time its noisy beat, becomes a part
Of a greater, more savage and less tameable moan.

In your own ways, you both are brooding and discreet:
Man, no one has mapped your chasm’s hidden floor,
Oh sea, no one knows your inmost riches, for
Your jealousy hides secrets none can repeat.

As the uncounted swarm of centuries gathers
You two have fought without pity or remorse, both
From sheer love of the slaughter and of death,
Oh, eternal wrestlers, oh, relentless brothers!

(translation by Ruthven Todd)

The use of the sea as a metaphor for the subconscious mind is not unusual in literature, but this may be one of the most clear examples of it. Right in the first stanza, Baudelaire describes the sea as a mirror that allows you to “look into your mind.”

The second stanza intrigues me. The idea that is expressed is that once a person connects with his or her subconscious mind, then that person loses awareness of his conscious self. One’s ordinary awareness is replaced by something primordial, something that exists in the deepest recesses of the psyche.

In the third stanza, we are faced with the mystery of consciousness. The subconscious mind is something that cannot be fathomed or comprehended by our normal state of awareness. Like the divine spirit, it is ineffable.

This brings us to the fourth and final stanza. We have here a struggle, between the rational and the emotional, between the physical and the spiritual, between our inner good and our inner decadence. But what Baudelaire does so eloquently is that he ties these personal internal struggles in with the greater cosmic struggles. The “eternal wrestlers” and “relentless brothers” conjure images Jacob wrestling the angel, as well as Jacob’s struggle with Esau.

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Jungian Symbolism in “Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters” by Mike Grell

GreenArrow_LongbowHunters

I picked this graphic novel up at last year’s Asheville Comic Expo and got it signed by writer/artist Mike Grell. I have to say that Mike was not the friendliest of the writers and artists I met that day, but whatever. Maybe he was tired or having a rough day. Anyway, it took me a while, but finally got around to reading it and overall I liked the book. I watched the “Arrow” series on TV but had never read any of the graphic novels. I must admit I was happy with this one and would certainly consider reading more in the future.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, the Green Arrow is Oliver Queen, and he is sort of like a cross between Batman and Robin Hood. I actually like that he does not possess any “superhuman” powers and relies on his physical strength and prowess.

In this novel, he is aged and reflecting back on his life. It is during this time that a mysterious female assassin appears who also uses a bow. This woman is systematically killing members of a crime organization who have a shrouded history.

What I found most interesting about the story is that the mysterious woman, known as Shado, is essentially the Jungian shadow aspect of Oliver’s psyche. She is able to kill without remorse, whereas Oliver struggles with moral issues, not wanting to take a life even though doing so is justified.

The hits on the target are only the outward proof of your mastery… like the symbol of the dragon you bear – a symbol of dishonor. Both are meaningless. You have transcended goals. You are the artless art. You are Shado.

(p. 95)

Toward the end, when Oliver faces Shado, it becomes clear that the two are different aspects of the same self, symbolic mirrors of themselves. It is symbolic of Oliver facing that part of himself that he has sought to repress.

Oliver: Why did you bring me here?

Shado: You have been hunting me. At least this way I don’t have to wonder where you are. We are alike, you and I.

Oliver: No. I’m nothing like you.

Shado: No? You want Magnor for what he did to that woman. I want him for what he did to my honor. How is your vengeance different from mine?

(pp. 130 – 131)

I’d like to close this post by talking a little bit about the artwork. It’s very good. Most writers of graphic novels seem to rely on others to create artwork to accompany the story, but Grell handle both the writing and the artwork with equal skill. I was impressed with both, and the fact that Grell did all this on his own is a testament to his artistic talent and versatility.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff!

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“Sonnet 22: My glass shall not persuade me I am old” by William Shakespeare

Painting by Caravaggio

Painting by Caravaggio

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will,
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gav’st me thine, not to give back again.

This is an interesting sonnet about how we view ourselves, and specifically how we view ourselves reflected in the ones we love. It is one of the fair youth sonnets, so Shakespeare is addressing a young man.

His love for the youth makes him feel young. We have a clear image of the older man, looking at himself in the mirror, and seeing himself as younger than he actually is. He knows that as long as he feels this connection to the youth and enjoys the happiness he is experiencing, then he will continue to feel invigorated. Love after all keeps us feeling young.

Shakespeare acknowledges that this image he has of himself as being young is directly related to his feelings for the youth. As long as he continues to feel affection for the young man, he will feel young and energetic himself. But if his feelings begin to tire, and he starts seeing the youth as stale, hackneyed, and if his passion begins to wane, then his true age will once again show. He will lose the sense of rejuvenation that love has instilled within him.

There is a definite correlation between our emotional state and how we view ourselves. When we are happy, content, joyous, then we see ourselves in a positive light, emanating the feelings that are within. Likewise, when we are sad, depressed, or lonely, then we see ourselves as old, tired, ugly, and so forth.

Thankfully, I am happy right now in my life, and as I look in the mirror, I like the person I see. I hope your reflection makes you happy too. Cheers and blessings!

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“Sonnet 1: From fairest creatures we desire increase” by William Shakespeare

Titian_WomanWithMirror

Titian

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

As I read this poem, I couldn’t help but think how little has changed in 500 years. We are still obsessed with physical beauty.

The opening line states the obvious—we desire sexual relations with those who possess physical beauty. But the word “increase” ties in with the next several lines. Humans not only desire physical beauty in their partners to satisfy their own pleasure, they also seek attractive partners so that they can pass the traits of physical beauty on to their children, thereby creating a fair bloodline. This was probably more important in Shakespeare’s time when upward mobility along the social ladder was usually gained through advantageous marriages. Having a beautiful daughter could certainly score you a nice dowry.

The middle section of the poem has an interesting shift. Here we see the obsession with beauty from a woman’s perspective. The woman is “contracted to thine own bright eyes,” or obsessed with her reflection in a mirror. She knows that if she is to secure a husband, she must do so while she still has the beauty of youth. She examines every aspect of herself and ornaments herself in order to highlight her appearance.

The ending of this sonnet has a dark, ironic twist. While we may focus on beauty, procreation, and securing our lineage, ultimately, we all face the same end: death. Our flesh will rot and we will become food for the worms. Which begs the question—Is it worth it? I’d like to say it’s not, but I have to be honest with myself. There are advantages to being good-looking. It would be naive to think that unattractive people have the same workplace opportunities as attractive people. While I think we have made progress in this area, your appearance will still have an impact on the opportunities that are presented to you.

I wish I could say we have evolved past this, but alas, tis not so. We may have come a long way as a society, but the fact is, human nature is very slow to change.

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