Weekly Poem: Eavan Boland reads ‘A Soldier in the 28th Massachusetts’


Eavan Boland reads her poem “A Soldier in the 28th Massachusetts” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

A Soldier in the 28th Massachusetts

If his cause is American
and his gun British —

a muzzle-loading musket
made in Enfield —

the features underneath
the blue forage cap art

Irish: a rough-cut intaglio
incised in a hidden history

of a shoreline receding
into a rainy distance

that eased out in the end
to reveal another coast

whose leaves are turning
this September evening

by the green incline
of Antietam Creek.

And if this soldier in
the 28th Massachusetts is

to hold himself in readiness
for the reckoning

with his new countrymen,
let him not remember,

not once,
hid old ones. Better to forget

the deep-water harbor,
the ship waiting, his father

on the dock with a contract
ticket for his wife and son,

weeping helplessly,
in the arms of his brother.

Eavan Boland’s poem “A Soldier in the 28th Massachusetts” is published in “Lines in Long Array: A Civil War Commemoration: Poems and Photographs, Past and Present.” In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery commissioned 12 modern poets to reflect on our contemporary understanding of the war.

An earlier version of this article said the “National Poetry Gallery” instead of the “National Portrait Gallery.”