Sea-spray-spotted figures gather on a beach to go to battle. The poet addresses them, saying that war does not carry peace, and that if they have felt the love of a woman, they should go home.
The Rose has seen many men go to battle for her, but none return.
Yeats begins both stanzas of this poem with a strong invocation: "Rose of all Roses, Rose of all the World!" This idea of setting the Rose - here, a beautiful dark woman representing Ireland - apart from other roses and ranking her first in importance, is consistent with his complex form of nationalism.
The concept of female love being superior to battle reappears throughout Yeats' poetry. Indeed, love, beauty and battle often ring together throughout this collection, which makes sense given that his beloved, Maud Gonne, was a militant nationalist. Some have speculated that Gonne resisted Yeats' courtship in part because he was not violent enough for her.
The final idea in the poem, of inevitable defeat, refers to Ireland's history of war and resistance. There had been a nationalist rebellion against the British in nearly every generation up to Yeats', but none were successful. Thus the Rose's champions, however devoted and valiant, seem doomed to fail as long as they pursue such violent methods.