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)
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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