The main topic in this poem is the expression of a man's thoughts before dying. The character is an Irish pilot who feels his last flight is at hand and reflects on the reasons why he has chosen to fly in wartime; troughout the poem we discover these motifs were both emotional and rational.
The poem has 16 lines arranged in one single stanza, which, based on the ideas expressed and the rhyme pattern, could be divided in 4 parts of 4 lines each one. In the first part (lines 1-4) the pilot foresees his death; in the second part (lines 5-8), begins to reflect on his own reasons to fly, stating that the result of war is not of his or his country concern; the third part (lines 9-12) explains that he did not do it for law or for admiration but rather for a personal desire; in the final part (lines 13-16) he mades a final balance of his past and future, finding them both worhless, and faces death.
The poem is written in first person and who speaks is the Irish pilot, Robert Gregory, considered by Yeats as an extraordinary human being, for he was not only a fighter, but also a horseman, an intelligent scholar and even an artist himself. The ideas expressed in "An Irish airman forsees his death" points out that the author considered Gregory as a man who had reached and equilibrium or "unity of being".
Yeats developed this concept as a state in which the two halves that compose the human nature are completely mingled and balanced. Through the analysis of two poets, Dante and Villon, Yeats identified these two halves as labour and desire, or as predestination and freedom. In the union of this duality unity of being is reached.1
Throughout the poem we see the struggle to reach this state, for the poem begin in an apparent contradiction which is eventually solved at the end of the text, this contradictions are shown in the ambivalent constructions of the first part of the poem.
In this lines the reader is called on the way the pilot considers his participation in the war. He did not chose to fly because he hated Germany and its Empire, nor because he loved his country or because he wanted to save Ireland from Europe domain. Yet this construction of contraries leave a definitive impression on the reader: it seems the more natural positition would be either to hate some country to fight against it or love own\u2019s country to fight for it. However, Yeats stablishes that Robert Gregory has chosen freely to fly, because of his personality and natural braveness.
Another part that is also expressing the lack of balance in the protagonist and how he is struggling to find a way to understand himself and why he is doing what he does could be found in the parallelism:
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?