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The Horses -- Edwin Muir

Guest poem sent in by Simon Pereira Shorey
(Poem #1378) The Horses
 Barely a twelvemonth after
 The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
 Late in the evening the strange horses came.
 By then we had made our covenant with silence,
 But in the first few days it was so still
 We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
 On the second day
 The radios failed; we turned the knobs, no answer.
 On the third day a warship passed us, headed north,
 Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
 A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
 Nothing. The radios dumb;
 And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
 And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
 All over the world. But now if they should speak,
 If on a sudden they should speak again,
 If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
 We would not listen, we would not let it bring
 That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
 At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
 Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
 Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
 And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
 The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
 They look like dank sea-monsters crouched and waiting.
 We leave them where they are and let them rust:
 "They'll molder away and be like other loam."
 We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
 Long laid aside. We have gone back
 Far past our fathers' land.
 And then, that evening
 Late in the summer the strange horses came.
 We heard a distant tapping on the road,
 A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
 And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
 We saw the heads
 Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
 We had sold our horses in our fathers' time
 To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
 As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield
 Or illustrations in a book of knights.
 We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
 Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
 By an old command to find our whereabouts
 And that long-lost archaic companionship.
 In the first moment we had never a thought
 That they were creatures to be owned and used.
 Among them were some half a dozen colts
 Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
 Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
 Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
 But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
 Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.
-- Edwin Muir
           (1887-1959)

A deeply moving poem, I first came across it in the English countryside in
the 1970's when the Cold War was at it's height and the idea of a nuclear
exchange initiating an apocalypse was not too far away.

Now living in Manhattan through September 11th, the idea of a biological
warfare catastrophe seems no longer confined to the pages of science fiction
novels.

The contrast between the purity of the horses and the corruption of
mechanized 'civilization' has a strong elegiac quality.

Simon Pereira Shorey

Biography: See Poem #1233

56 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

Martin Julian DeMello writes on 11/2/2003 5:00 PM:
> Guest poem sent in by Simon Pereira Shorey
>
> 'The Horses'

I was seeing the movie version of that old Nevil Shute classic "On The
Beach" ... just before I read this poem.

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, directed by Stanley Kramer.

Particularly a scene at a picnic, where they all sing Waltzing Matilda,
first as a cheerful tune, and then segueing into a funeral dirge.

srs

PDinham said...

I, too, first encountered this poem in the 1970's when it made very immediate
sense in the originally intended context. Now as noted by the person who
posted it, it is overlaid with other connotations, ecological as well as
apocolyptic. An excerpt from was set as a text in an English exam when I was 11 and
it was so resonant that it made me seek out the whole text and, subsequently,
more of Muir's work. My favourite of his, incidentally, is "Transmutation",
which would make a fine addition to this excellent site, sometime.

Incidentally, as if being a fine poet wasn't enough, it is Muir we must thank
for his work in being a tireless champion of Kafka in the West. Top Man!

craig said...

i now see, some 15 years after i 1st read this work as a higher grade student in scotland, that this is the work that truely turned me on to the depth of the field of sci-fi, as truely this is. 'nuf said.............

Croft said...

I first encountered this poem as a college freshman in 1963. It was included
in a wonderful poetry textbook, Sound and Sense, which I still have in my
possession. It has remained one of my all time favorite poems. The phrase
"They'll molder away and be like other loam," (not sure why Muir put it in
quotes: was it a colloquialism?) often comes to mind when I think about
death .

Gary Croft

Langley, WA, USA

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