The speaker calls on a ghost to stand over his son, Michael, so that he may sleep well, and so that his mother may sleep well, too. The ghost should hold a sword, as some have planned the infant’s murder to prevent his future haughty actions.
Although God can make everything anew and teach stars to sing, the speaker says that He has not expressed Himself verbally, nor wailed in pain. And when the devil’s friends take over the town, a women and a man will still be able to protect their child.
This poem also shows Yeats’ affinity for theosophy. In the 1920s, Yeats attended séances in an attempt to speak to dead loved ones. In the same way that other poems state the belief that a spirit may be called up and spoken to, in this poem Yeats converses with God in a more traditional, one-on-one fashion.
The poem’s message is a simple one, matched by its simple ABABCDDC rhyme scheme, which may remind one of the simpler ABABCDCD rhyme scheme of many lullabies. The danger that Yeats fears for his child is real, though, as civil war tore his country. Knowledge of his own status in the Irish elite is evident in the word “haughty.” His infant son’s life is threatened by his possible later “haughty” deeds because he is a member of the Protestant Ascendancy: a group targeted by the IRA.