Innocence Lost: “Boy-Soldier” by Michael Longley

 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. 

"Child Soldier in the Ivory Coast, Africa" by Gilbert Ground

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

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. 

“Boy-Soldier” by Michael Longley

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.

(Posted by Julie and Mike)

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Wake Forest University Press was founded in 1976 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Exclusively publishing Irish poetry, we are a small academic press and the premier publisher of Irish poetry in North America. We still reside in Winston-Salem as a part of Wake Forest University, and continue to publish culturally-rich literature.
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4 Responses to Innocence Lost: “Boy-Soldier” by Michael Longley

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