We're convinced you don't have to know anything about Yeats and Maud Gonne to "get" this poem, but we're also convinced that the story is so spicy that you'll want to know if you don't already. On the other hand, you do have to know about Helen of Troy and the Trojan War to see how the poem builds up to a comparison between Maud and Helen. But that's what Shmoop is for! Read our "In a Nutshell," and you'll be a regular Yeats historian.
The other cool thing about this poem: no tough vocabulary! Yeats may think that the common man is "ignorant," but he uses words that any common man or woman can understand.