In the poem "Dead Boy," the speaker mourns the death of a young boy. The poem is thus an elegy. The poem is an unusual elegy, however, in that the boy is not celebrated as a good, kind, loving boy, but rather is remembered honestly as a violent, foolish, and unpleasant boy. The point that the speaker makes throughout the whole poem is that we should not idolize those who die, even when those who die are children. Instead, the speaker suggests, we should remember the dead as they really were and accept that death is a tragic occurrence regardless of what the dead person was like when they were alive. The death is especially tragic when the dead person is only a child.
In the opening line of the poem, the speaker makes it clear that the eponymous "dead boy" was neither "beautiful, nor good, nor clever." The speaker continues to say that, in fact, the boy was, metaphorically, a "sword beneath his mother's heart." The implication here is that the boy caused a great deal of pain and upset to his own mother. This idea, that the boy was unpleasant, is repeated and emphasized throughout the poem. In the second stanza, for example, the boy is remembered as a "pig with a pasty face."
At the same time, the speaker tries to emphasize the point that the boy's death was still tragic, because of his youth and regardless of his unpleasant personality. This idea is perhaps best demonstrated in the final stanza, when the speaker says that the boy's death was "the old tree's late branch wrenched away." The tree here is symbolic of life, and the "late branch" is symbolic of the newest, youngest life, that life being the boy's. This image of the newest, youngest branch of a tree being torn away implies that the boy's death was unnatural and a violence against nature.