Within ‘My Boy the Hero’ the poet crafts an upbeat mood in the first two stanzas that steadily declines into darkness in the final two. The poet’s tone is caring, nuanced, and understanding and is, therefore, able to speak on what are at times conflicting themes of patriotism and the cost of war.
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Summary of My Boy the Hero
The poem takes the reader through a speaker’s emotional reaction to their “boy’s” successful time playing the role of a solider. He was brave and wore his uniform proudly. The speaker describes how the boy “fought the fight,” and presumably, brought he victory back home. But, the last two stanzas darken the mood as the toll the fighting took on his mind is depicted. The poet uses metaphors and similes to compare the boy’s mind to frayed fiddle strings and depict the damage that was done to his soul.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of the Poem
‘My Boy the Hero’ is a four stanza poem that’s divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a structure rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern AABB CCBB, and so on, with only the first two endings changing sounds. The lines follow a metrical pattern. The first three lines of each stanza contain four sets of two beats. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. This is known as iambic tetrameter.
Khan makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘My Boy the Hero’. These include anaphora, epistrophe, enjambment, and repetition. The latter, repetition, is seen in this poem through the use of a refrain. This is the repetition of an a full line, or part of a line, of verse. In this case, the line reads “My boy, the hero played”. These words make up the fourth line of every stanza. By utilizing a refrain the poet is able to increase the musicality of the text. This makes good sense for this poem in particular as parts of the poem are concerned with playing music.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are a few examples in this poem, such as in the transitions between lines two and three of the first stanza and two and three of the fourth stanza.
Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. Anaphora has the same definition but it applies to the beginning of lines. The former can be seen through the use of the word “played” and the latter, “My boy”.
Analysis of My Boy the Hero
My boy, the hero played his part,
Upon his sleeve; his stripes, his heart
And when they marched out on parade
My boy, the hero played
In the first quatrain of ‘My Boy the Hero,’ the speaker begins by using the refrain that later appears at the end of all four stanzas. They describe this unknown boy and the successful way he “played his part”. While sections of the poem do relate to music, in this case, the speaker is interested in a role or task the boy fulfilled. He was just a young man, but he did his duty and marched on “parade” with the other soldiers. The speaker describes the boy’s uniform and reiterates the fact that he is a “hero” and did what he needed to do.
Although it is never clearly defined, a reader can assume that this “boy” is a family member of the speaker in this text.
A patriot like Churchill’s own
My boy, the hero played,
The second stanza of ‘My Boy the Hero’ expands on the bravery of this young boy. He “fought the fight” just as he was trained to “and brought it home”. The “it” in these lines is undefined but likely means victory. The speaker compares the boy’s patriotism to Churchill’s, a very obvious compliment. Now, the poet uses “played” loosely. It refers both to his success at playing the role of solider and to playing in the “band”.
But now the anchor left its mark,
My boy, the hero played,
The third stanza introduces ocean imagery with the phrase, “the anchor left its mark”. This is in reference to the battles, struggles, or terrors the boy beheld. It, like an anchor, is weighing him down. The word “Marooned” continues the ocean imagery and depicts the boy’s state of mind. With music once again playing a role, the boy’s mental state is compared to the frayed strings of a fiddle.
The hauntings of a ghost within
My boy, the hero played.
In the final lines, the poet describes the young boy as haunted by “a ghost”. It resides in his body, his mind, and his soul. He played his role, he played the “game of life,” and the game played back. It, like a “live grenade,” changed him.