The War Horse By Eavan Boland

This dry night, nothing unusual   
About the clip, clop, casual

Iron of his shoes as he stamps death
Like a mint on the innocent coinage of earth.

I lift the window, watch the ambling feather
Of hock and fetlock, loosed from its daily tether

In the tinker camp on the Enniskerry Road,   
Pass, his breath hissing, his snuffling head

Down. He is gone. No great harm is done.   
Only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn—

Of distant interest like a maimed limb,   
Only a rose which now will never climb

The stone of our house, expendable, a mere   
Line of defence against him, a volunteer

You might say, only a crocus, its bulbous head   
Blown from growth, one of the screamless dead.

But we, we are safe, our unformed fear
Of fierce commitment gone; why should we care

If a rose, a hedge, a crocus are uprooted   
Like corpses, remote, crushed, mutilated?

He stumbles on like a rumour of war, huge   
Threatening. Neighbours use the subterfuge

Of curtains. He stumbles down our short street   
Thankfully passing us. I pause, wait,

Then to breathe relief lean on the sill   
And for a second only my blood is still

With atavism. That rose he smashed frays   
Ribboned across our hedge, recalling days

Of burned countryside, illicit braid:
A cause ruined before, a world betrayed.
Eavan Boland, “The War Horse” from An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967-1987. Copyright © 1996 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Collected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995)

Poet Bio