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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)

  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Eavan Boland
Questions of identity— as an Irish woman, mother, poet, and exile— give rise to much of Eavan Boland’s poetry. She was born in Dublin, but grew up in London, where anti-Irish racism gave her a strong sense of her heritage. Irish history and myth also figure prominently in her work. The author of eight collections of poetry, she is also a professor of English at Stanford.

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