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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Innocence Lost: “Boy-Soldier” by Michael Longley

“Child Soldier in the Ivory Coast, Africa” by Gilbert Ground

Michael Longley’s recent poem “Boy-Soldier” was inspired by Irish author Tom McAlindon’s account of the death of WWI teenage soldier, Bobbie Kernaghan of Belfast.

The images of young soldiers killed in war, of their tender necks pierced and their armor clattering to the ground link this brutal death of an Irish boy and other World War soldiers not only to the ancient Greeks but to child-soldiers in Africa today. Children have long died at the hands of their elders.

There is a tenderness in Longley’s description of this young soldier’s death; the white, falling objects (“Milky blossoms” and “spring blizzard”) jarringly juxtaposed with blood-soaked hair.

As Longley writes, we can hear the “music,” or cries of a child lost with his generation, so close to our “home,” or the present.

It is perhaps a call to action as well as a memorial.


The spear-point pierces his tender neck.
His armour clatters as he hits the ground.
Blood soaks his hair, bonny as the Graces’,
Braids held in place by gold and silver bands.
Think of a smallholder who rears a sapling
In a beauty spot a burn burbles through
(You can hear its music close to your home)
Milky blossoms quivering in the breeze.
A spring blizzard blows in from nowhere
And uproots it, laying its branches out.
Thus Euphorbus, the son of Pantheus,
A boy-soldier – the London Scottish, say,
The Inniskillings, the Duke of Wellington’s
Was killed and despoiled by Menelaus.

Michael Longley, from The Stairwell (2014)

Categories: Michael Longley, Poem of the WeekTags: , , ,


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