What is W. B. Yeats's "The Travail of Passion" about?
This short poem by Yeats draws on the story of the crucifixion of Christ and the act of Mary Magdalene in using her hair and perfume to wash the feet of Jesus. These events capture the sense of devotion and passion that followers of Jesus feel when faced with the difficulties of the world in the context of the eternal reward they will gain. Note how this eternal context is highlighted in the first two lines:
When the flaming lute-thronged angelic door is wide;
When an immortal passion breathes in mortal clay...
When humans are aware that the "angelic door is wide" and the divine presence is captured in human form, it inspires followers of Christ to endure some of the same sufferings and torments as Christ himself once endured, even if those sufferings will result in death, as mortal death brings with it an eternity in heaven. This is captured in the last line of the poem through the two symbols of the lily and the rose:
Lilies of death-pale hope, roses of passionate dream.
The lilies clearly stand for death and the way that following God might lead to martyrdom and suffering, but the hope that such followers have is presented in the symbol of the rose, which stands for the "passionate dream"; the final unification of the believer with Jesus in heaven.