The beautiful belongings that had astonished the mob are all destroyed. There had been an ancient olive statue, ivories, ornamental bronze and stone. The mob, which the speaker calls “we,” had pretty toys in childhood, including laws that functioned and were not vulnerable to threats or violence. This way of life, however, was "unlearned" when the mob formed. Now the nightmare is everywhere, says the speaker. Drunk soldiers murder mothers without punishment. Everyone fears everyone else during the night. “We” thought we had an ideology, but we are nothing but animals fighting in a hole. Anyone who thinks clearly knows that nothing permanent, whether intellectual or physical, can be built during this period in history. No one dares to object when the ivories, the statues, and all the other beautiful things are broken. As Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers were burnt, the new year rips in, and the men dance like barbarians.
Some poet has already compared the soul to a swan. The speaker is satisfied with that, so long as the swan knows what it looks like. A man thinking alone is lost in a labyrinth. A Platonist says that to cast off the body for thought is the luckiest death. The image of a dead swan brings a rage to end all things, and stops thought halfway. “We” learn we were crazy when we thought we would fix all things. “We” who seven years ago talked of honor and truth now shriek with the cries of the animal in the pit. The speaker invites the reader: let us mock the great, who toiled greatly and left a monument. Come let us mock the wise, the good. Mock mockers who would not lift a hand to help the good, wise or great to stop the storm, for we deal in mockery.
Violence on the road includes some attractive riders, horses with flowers, dusty wind, and thunder of mass movement. If any touch a girl, all are angry or lustful. The dust drops for insolent Robert Atisson, with whom Lady Kyteler was in love.
The title of this poem is the year in which the Anglo-Irish War began. Yeats had agonizingly mixed feelings about the independence movement in Ireland. He was in love with Maude Gonne, a revolutionary, and had been steeped in the Irish mythology that the IRA used as propaganda to get young men to fight (they often spoke of the heroism of Cuchulain, for example). However, Yeats was from an Anglo-Irish family, and was born a member of the Protestant Ascendancy - the very group that saw to lose from Irish independence. Yeats’ identification with this group was always ambiguous, but this poem does express horror at the destruction of their belongings.
Yeats had a strong affinity for art and history, so it is with horror that the speaker describes the destruction of art in Ireland’s large (Protestant) manors. This poem is more regular in form than many of Yeats’ looser lyrical poems, even rhyming alternate lines toward the end. This represents the longing for order that juxtaposes the subject matter of the poem. This is a highly unflattering portrait of the IRA, who were very popular among the Irish during the Anglo-Irish war. Yeats describes them as full of bloodlust, rather than as being guided by a strong ideological purpose. Toward the end of the poem, we see that the destruction is not only of the artwork in the great houses, but of thought itself. The speaker self-identifies as a trafficker in mockery, indicating that even thinkers have lost their way. The last stanza returns to visceral imagery, and the speaker indicates the seductive nature of the violence that is sweeping Ireland. The horses and men are powerful, beautiful, and strong, and announce their sexuality without fear. But in their wake are ancient witches and demons, indicating that the brute feelings that have been called up in support of the Anglo-Irish War are more ancient and more sinister.