The poem also expresses Yeats’ dismay at the fact that the new modern Ireland has failed to bring about any greater change; he can only allude to ‘they’ who ‘were of a different kind’, in reference to the historical Irish nationalist figures who Yeats believes in this line to be more well-learned, especially in comparison to the current Irish nationalists such as in ‘Easter 1916’, where he criticises Con Markievicz for staying ‘in ignorant good will’. Yeats repetitively accuses modern society of failing to meet their grandeur, even though they had ‘stilled’ (their) childish play’; these great characters held influence previously and Yeats is dismayed that they no longer do so despite in his opinion deserving larger recognition from modern Ireland. Yeats contrasts these characters with the modern Ireland, noting that these figures had ‘little time…to pray’, in comparison to the modern society who would offer ‘prayer’ to aid Ireland’s identity, yet lacking any real action. In this way Yeats expresses his disappointment that these figures, namely ‘Edward Fitzgerald… Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone’ had ‘gone about the world like wind’, and modern Ireland had failed to replace these figures with anything worthy of significance. The ‘wind’ also presents a metaphor for human spirit and resilience, in which Ireland’s cultural ‘spirit’ has been destroyed by modernism. Yeats points out that these figures were responsible for making such a great sacrifice, facing the ‘hangman’s rope’, yet modern Ireland does not appreciate their actions as Yeats questions ‘What, God help us, could they save?’; all the sacrifices made previously are rendered useless and ultimately in vain. The break from the standard 8 syllables in the second stanza adds to Yeats’ growing frustration with this change.
Yeats is also cynical in response to modern Ireland, expressing his contempt for the fact that the heroic actions of past heroes who ‘for this…all…blood was shed’, yet notably Yeats regrets that they have become forgotten. While Yeats describes these figures as being in some ‘delirium’, he continues to emphasise the importance of culture and passion in their ideals, in contrast to modern Ireland which Yeats believes it lacks. He alludes to ‘the wild geese [spreading]’, a metaphor for Ireland’s previous will to intervene and fight in other countries for Irish interests, expressing remorse for the fact that Ireland has now become too self-absorbed; the final stanza assumes that modern Irish society would simply view these significant figures as being ‘maddened’ by ‘some woman’s yellow hair’, in reference to their obsession with Irish culture. In this sense Yeats is critical that modern Ireland sees these important historical figures in this way, and responds curtly with ‘let them be, they’re dead and gone’, in remorse of their sacrifice. The final refrain describes their passion as ‘with O’Leary in the grave’, a finality which Yeats is deeply disappointed with, and Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’ also describes ‘anarchy loosed’ in society, and modern Ireland similar destroyed in this way. The mixed half rhyme scheme of the entire poem details Yeats’ view that Ireland’s culture has been shattered and left in a confusing mess.
Yeats describes his cynicism and disappointment with the new modern Ireland which he views as being too focused on the material aspect of life, failing to understand the significance of Irish culture and art form. Yeats criticises this very society as being responsible for the changes, the ‘marrow’ as the life force of Irish culture ‘dried’. Yeats contemplates and feels remorse for the sacrifices made by other Irish nationalists such as O’Leary who he continuously references in the refrain, serving to emphasise what Ireland has lost. Ultimately, Yeats is left disgusted and disappointed with the state of modern Ireland.