The opening stanza to this poem, with the use of direct address by using ‘you’, is aimed at the shop-keeping/middle class workers. ‘Fumble[ing] in a greasy till’. This description of a worker, using a cash-till, presents them as a rather grubby being. This sentence is very similar to the phrase ‘to grease someone’s palm, which suggests underhand dealing, meaning their motives are less than good and with lives eager for any money and full of greed. It’s almost as if Yeats is saying ‘do you really want to be living like this, being obsessed with money?
Yeats is disgusted, it seems, that people have become so money absorbed due to the industrialization of Ireland, ‘adding the halfpence to the pence’, this shows how people now take account of every penny being used. It could also mean that they have all this money coming in, but none is going out to the people, who actually need it, which Yeats finds immoral. Money has overtaken the importance of things that Irish people used to really believe in, like religion, ’money comes before prayer’.
Religion used to be a focal part of lifestyle in Ireland, but money has become considerable more valuable than praying, as praying has just become an everyday thing that is felt to be compulsory- but the true meaning of religion has lost it’s meaning. This line suggest that praying is only an investment for the future, in the sense that if they don’t do it, they won’t be blessed after death, so they only pray to (selfishly) save their own souls. This seems that there is still a faint belief in religion, but everyone has been forced into a more political viewpoint so has become less of a necessity.
Yeats feels that everything has had previously been associated with Ireland, has been lost due to the development of the country. ‘You have dried the marrow from the bone’. The marrow represents all the goodness, spirit, romance, art, patriotism, heroism and that is has been taken away from the bone/core of Ireland. This is also shown in the following lines ‘for men were born to pray and save: Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’- this shows how men were meant to live but instead and that was Yeats’ dream world but instead has turned out so differently.
Yeats also tried to convey, that along with the romantic Ireland being ‘dead and gone’, so have great men, like his idol- O’Leary, who is mentioned in the last sentence of the first stanza. O’Leary was a past hero and this second stanza represents sacrifice. ‘Yet they were of a different kind’, this differentiates the people of Ireland now, who just ‘go with the flow’ and have the same beliefs as everyone else, rather than stand up for what they believe in like the men mentioned the stanzas to follow.
Yeats is trying to get a message across to the reader about these people lost their lives to try and save Ireland and how people just take this for granted and forgotten about how important they were, and Yeats is trying to bring meaning back to their lost lives. The people of Ireland grew up learning about the stories of these lost hero’s (‘the names that stilled your childish play’) and now all of a sudden that this revolutionary change has taken place, the question that Yeats seems to try and ask the reader whether they have just forgotten about these brave people and only care about yourself?
There is a reference to death, ‘for whom the hangman’s rope was spun’, this shows how far men were prepared to go stand up for what they believed in even if it meant paying with their lives. Irish people were brought up to admire the, but now they’re only interested in materialism which Yeats feels deeply sad at this prospect- has everything the activists did, been in vain? Stanza three is about particular individuals who fought for Ireland and remind people what they did for the country. 691 Penal Laws restricted movement of Catholics meaning they couldn’t leave the country but the term ‘wild geese’ is used to represent the soldiers that fought in Europe despite this law. It is also a metaphor for the soldiers quite literally ‘flying off’; to do what they thought was right. This suggests a sense of freedom and togetherness. ‘For this that all that blood was shed’, this line is trying to emphasis the passion these people had for Ireland as they fought for their beliefs until death but still doesn’t justify for their deaths.
The last stanza four, gets the reader to think of the past sacrifices, to what’s happening in the present day. It makes you think about all the exiles, that were banished form their homes. ‘And call all those exiles as they were, in all their loneliness and pain’. I find this line very moving as you think about how they prepared they were to up give up everything in their life, without a doubt, to stand up for what they thought was right, which I admire very much, as many had to leave their family behind, or had no family at all and lead a life full of being chased and hunted down by police.
Yeats also emphasizes how little people now care for these men, in this line, ‘you’d cry, ‘some woman’s yellow hair, has maddened every mother’s son’. These heroes mean nothing to the people anymore, and would care more over a drunken fight in a bar. ‘They weighed so lightly what they gave. ’ I interpret this as the men giving everything, but thinking nothing of it- it was just something they had to do, like an instinctive reaction. This could also translate to being weighing money to get value, but these men gave everything they had, for nothing.
The beginning of the poem started out angrily, as if Yeats is having a go at the people of Ireland, but these last lines almost seem that Yeats has given up trying to dignify the lives that were lost by the brave men in this poem, so the sentence that has been repeated in the three previous stanzas has changed from ‘romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave’, to ‘but let them be they’re dead and gone, they’re with O’Leary in the grave’, this signifies that Ireland isn’t going to change back to how it used to be, and Yeats just has to accept this even though he doesn’t believe the way Ireland has changed, is for the better.