The first part of Yeats' collection draws largely upon mythic Ireland. In "The Rose upon the Rood of Time," Yeats invites the rose (his beloved) to come close, but not too close to him. "Fergus and the Druid" catalogs the exchange between an ancient king and a druid who gives him the gift of a bag of memories that only make the king sadd. "Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea" describes Cuchulain's mad battle with the ocean after he unknowingly kills his own son. "The Rose of the World" puts Yeats's beloved, Maude Gonne, into a classical context and recalls a hike that the two took together. "The Rose of Peace" imagines how heaven and hell could be reconciled by the Archangel Michael. "The Rose of Battle" discusses the seductiveness of battle to Irish youth; Yeats claims that only men who cannot and have not loved should go to battle. "A Faery Song" imagines what fairies would sing over the grave of the "old and gay" mythological heroes of Diarmuid and Grania, a pair who illicitly ran away together and incited the wrath of Finn MacCumhall.
"The Lake Isle of Inisfree" shifts us away from mythical Ireland to modern Ireland. Trapped in London, Yeats imagines creating a solitary existence in one of his favorite parts of County Sligo. "A Cradle Song" is a beautiful, short set of rhymes in which Yeats says that he will miss an infant when it grows older. "The Pity of Love" and "The Sorrow of Love" describe Yeats's unrequited love for Gonne and her power in his life. "When You are Old" is a poem to Gonne, requesting her to read his poetry as an old woman. In response to Gonne's offhand comment that she would like to become a seagull, Yeats wrote "The White Birds," imagining that they could be transformed together. "A Dream of Death" was written while Gonne was convalescing in France. Yeats imagines that if she dies in a strange land, he will be able to bring some comfort by writing her epitaph.
In the last group of poems in the collection, Yeats discusses Irish culture in general. In both "Who goes with Fergus?" - in which Yeats urges Irish youth to abandon their worldly responsibilities as the mythical king had - and "The Man who dreamed of Faeryland," Yeats diagnoses Irish society as having a lack of connection to nature. "The Dedication to a Book of Stories selected from the Irish Novelists" expresses Yeats's nostalgia for an early, pre-British time in Irish history. "The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner" is a nearly verbatim discussion by an Irish peasant of the unpleasantness of the aging process. "The Ballad of Father Gilligan" describes God's miraculous completion of a priest's work. "The Two Trees" is a mysterious injunction not to look too deeply into the dark side of human nature. In "To Some I have Talked with by the Fire," Yeats reflects on the experience of writing poetry that may be out of touch with his political surroundings. "To Ireland in the Coming Times" serves as a type of apology for the collection and its focus on Maud Gonne; in this poem Yeats places himself among a generation of older Celticists.