‘The War Horse’ by Eavan Boland

The War Horse

By Eavan Boland


Upon analysing a poem, I like to decode it in a particular way. I like to read the poem as if it were a story. This helps me to generate an understanding of both the poet and the poem’s context.  The following notes outline the story of the poem ‘The War Horse’. Once an understanding of this poem’s story has been established you will then be able to more effectively create your own opinions and observations.

 The Story of the Poem

  1. It is set in a suburban neighbourhood at night time.
  2. Onomatopoeia is used by the poet to describe the sound of a horse who has wandered into the speakers yard.
  3. The horse is so close now that the speaker can make out a tuft of hair on it’s neck ‘…the ambling feather of hock and fetlock…’. The speaker can also hear ‘…his breath hissing, his snuffling head down’. The poet uses sensuous images and sounds to create an image of the horse here.
  4. The image of the horse is threatening and its size is intimidating ‘…huge, threatening…’. The horse causes destruction in the speaker’s garden by trampling on various plants.
  5. The speaker along with her neighbours stay inside until the horse ‘…stumbles down [their] short street’.There is a definite sense of relief, the speaker acknowledges that nobody confronted the horse or stopped it from causing damage to the estate. The horse here effectively serves as a metaphor for war, and the neighbourhood can be seen as society.
  6. This commonplace occurrence seems to bring up an ancestral memory of conflict and war for the speaker; ‘…And for a second my blood is still with atavism’. The horse serves as a metaphor for war we can conclude that its destruction serves as a metaphor for the consequences of war.
  7. The horse, in the context of this poem, can be associated with the damaging impact a ‘…rumour of war’ can have on a society. The speaker associates the way the horse tramples over her garden and it’s flowers with the destruction war, or a rumour of war, can have on society ‘…as he stamps death like a mint on the innocent coinage of earth’. This description is quite industrious, hinting that modern warfare is like a machine that can, in an almost conveyor belt like fashion, destroy the lives of the innocent.
  8. The speaker condemns how the neighbours react in a passive way to the horse and the potential destruction it can cause in their housing estate. It is evident that they behave in a similarly passive nature to war.
  9. The horse and its destruction serve as a harrowing reminder to the poet of Ireland’s troubled past.


Strong Imagery:

  1. “…nothing unusual about the clip, clop, casual iron of his shoes…”
  2. “…his breath hissing, his snuffling head down.”
  3. “…a rose which now will never climb the stone of our house…”
  4. “He stumbles on like a rumour of war, huge, threatening…”
  5. “I pause, wait, the to breath relief lean on the sill and for a second only my blood is still with atavism.”


Boland Exam Questions


  1. ‘Boland’s reflective insights are expressed through her precise use f language’. Write your response to this statement, supporting your answer with suitable reference to the poetry on your course.


  1. ‘The poetry of Eavan Boland provides rich insights into human relationships using language that is lyrical and evocative.’ Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the poetry of Eavan Boland on your course.

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