- Hardship in Ireland
- Fate / Inevitability
- The poem’s repetitive structure: 8 syllable lines, ABAB rhyming pattern sets up a formal, Late Romantic voice and a sense of inevitability e.g. “My county is Kiltartan Cross / My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor / No likely end could bring them loss / Or leave them happier than before.”
- An antithesis is established to show the Irishman’s attitude to war – it seems Ireland has been struggling so long, it is difficult to get excited or outraged by WWI: “Those that I fight I do not hate / Those that I guard I do not love.”
- Anaphora is used to reject the traditional reasons men go to war: “Nor law, nor duty bade me fight / Nor public men, nor cheering crowds”.
- A mixture of positive and negative emotions is established through contrasting diction: “A lonely impulse of delight / Drove to this tumult in the clouds”.
- Tumult can mean noisy actions – like an aeroplane in a barrel roll or it can mean inner conflict or confusion.
- The anadiplosis: “The years to come seemed waste of breath / A waste of breath the years behind” creates an existential choice – faced with the hopelessness of his life and future, he has chosen a path which will kill him.
- The repetition of the word “balance” and “this” in “this life, this death” suggests that the plane’s wings have straightened after the barrel roll, but also that the cosmic scales are being balanced – as though the war itself is a counterbalance of some other more civilised age.