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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Wild Horses

Edwin Muir was among the very first of my poetry heroes and almost from the beginning his poem The Horses struck me as among his most powerful, and certainly one of his strangest. I began to see an affinity - if that is not claiming too much - during the course of writing Wild Horses and so I offer it as a tribute to him.

That morning there were horses in the field;
all strangers to us, no one knew from where.
Sixteen bronze mustangs, deeply traumatized.
They stood together staring straight ahead,
though some eyes were unfocussed and seemed blind.
They shivered in the cold - or trembled at
the sight of us or what we brought to mind.
Paul used his skills to look them in each eye;
his right to their right, left to each of theirs
(as if he could look straight into their thoughts),
reporting what he saw. And what he saw
astonished us and terrified us all.

He spoke of suns, intensely hot - each one
a staring eye - and felt them burning his.
We heard descriptions of their retinas
alight, consumed by flames of purest black
and smoke from far behind them, billowing
like sails in a high wind - and full of light.
Yet other suns, he saw, were filigreed
with veins from which blood flowed and pooled until
the pools became a flood in which they drowned
or struggled to survive. Mustangs he saw
in deadly combat. With each other, so
it seemed at first - until he saw their eyes.

Our mustangs' eyes were deeply set and black.
The beasts attacking them (in what they must
have thought was privacy) had bulbous eyes
of amber, blue or grey. Harrowing to
see the damage every horse sustained!
In other eyes he watched the mustangs lose
to feral boars whose greater numbers won
the day. A golden mustang in full stride,
he saw. Late evening and a low sun, ever
more intense, the mustang's shadow stretched to
breaking point - except, the horse it was that
went, the shadow left to gallop gamely on.

Others he saw gallop to a cliff edge
and go over, lemming-like, to waiting
deaths (or if they lived, were buried under
rock falls), soft food for those marauding lions.
Some, caged behind a rash of razor wire,
were tearing at it with their hoofs and teeth
until their bloodless forms fell to the ground.
In one eye was a Pegasus in flight
above a choir of golden angels. These
it buried with dark scatter bombs of shame.
In other eyes the mustangs fought, reared up
and boxed each other with their forelegs raised.

In one eye was a horse that backed away
and swung its head until the scene went black.
Then in the oldest mustang's eyes he saw
the tractors and the 'dozers moving in
and levelling the ground. Some colts there were
who stretched themselves before them in the mud,
but were swept up and dumped in pits of lime.
They could not stop the graceless shapes that rose
like old teeth biting into what had been
green skylines full of hope. Then came the rain,
the floods and a new hope: the horses swam.
They came straight from their baptism to us.

19 comments:

120 Socks said...

This is absolutely beautiful,sad and completely engaging. Great poem. Think about riding the poetry bus this week Dave, it would be great to have you on board!

Erratic Thoughts said...

You are one of the most well-read persons I know...Beautiful poem :)
Very Intense...

Karen said...

I agree with 120 Socks. I was totally engaged from the beginning to the end of this almost-Apocolyptic vision.

anthonynorth said...

The imagery in this in unnervingly vivid. Excellent.

A Cuban In London said...

It is a strange poem, and I can only compare to that moment when a painter (not that I am one, mind), first set eyes on his/her target and the stream of consciousness that follows it. The poem just flows. I loved this line:

'In one eye was a horse that backed away
and swung its head until the scene went black.'

Kat Mortensen said...

Wow! Dave, you never cease to amaze me.

So many things are flying through my head at the moment - The Gulf War, "The Lord of the Rings", all the wars of the ages, really.

So many incredible images and constructions here. These, for some reason were the ones that struck me most strongly:


"Yet other suns, he saw, were filigreed
with veins from which blood flowed and pooled ...

These
it buried with dark scatter bombs of shame ...

Then came the rain,
the floods and a new hope: the horses swam.
They came straight from their baptism to us."

Really a brilliant piece. You just get better and better, and in saying that I feel it's a moot point because you are just so good already.

Kat

Jim Murdoch said...

I didn’t know the Muir poem but I read it after reading yours because I didn’t want its taste in my mind as I read yours. This is a fine piece but the best thing about it, for me, was its premise. How many of us have looked at an animal (usually a pet I would imagine) and wondered what they might be thinking? We like to anthropomorphise them and it’s impossible to write about anything except in human terms and have it make sense so in that respect your poem fails (a horse has no concept of a tractor for example) but as a translation of what is going on inside the horses it succeeds admirably. I also enjoyed the Muir poem.

Kass said...

Your ability to express distinct mirages of the mind has once more transported me to a place of animal intensity.

The Weaver of Grass said...

He is one of my favourite poets too Dave - and I think this owes quite a lot to his style.

John Hayes said...

Intense &, as one other commenter said, vivid. As Jim Murdoch said, it seems an attempt to meet a feral animal on a level that is as far from anthropomorphized as possible--or transfigured in some numinous way, perhaps, & an admirable poem, I would say both in premise & execution.

Muir's poems are terrific. At least in the States, he doesn't get the attention he should. An excellent translator, too.

lightverse said...

What a strange, wonderful, sad poem. A friend of mine who writes children's books from a horse's perspective (I've helped to edit them) has given me a keen sense of appreciation for some of the horrors that horses must endure as we take away everything that was once theirs, including their freedom.

Your poem spoke volumes in that same way. I am affected deeply.

Linda said...

Yes, when we anthropomorphize, we usually give "funny", "cute" or "sweet" human characteristics to animals. Giving animals the power to know the worst endeavors of people, is not as frequently done. Your poem resonates when i think that animals would know the worst horrors people can inflict. But over the centuries, haven't we treated and don't we continue to treat wild animals with very little respect or care? Some of us anyway. Thank you for this terrifying look at us? / wild mustangs? It is a very engaging poem.

Conda V. Douglas said...

I, too, like Edwin Muir and agree with John--we're "gotta be an American to count" here in the U.S. I think your poem was a lovely and appropriate tribute.

Cloudia said...

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

><}}(°>

Dave King said...

120 Socks
Thanks for both the comment and the invitation. I do hope to join you.

Erratic Thoughts
Well read is not how I would have described myself, but I appreciate the compliment.

Karen
Yes, it was intended as an ALMOST apocolyptic image.

anthonynorth
Much gratitude for your continued support.

A Cuban in London
To me that represents a very pleasing response. Thank you.

Kat
Thanks for a most gratifying reponse. It really is very much appreciated.

Jim
Your main point is well made and I take it absolutely. It does deserve a lot of consideration, I think. Off the top of my head I would say that although the horse would have no concept of a tractor, it might well have an image of one in its visual memory. You might argue, of course, that such an image is only likely to take root if there is also a concept, but it still remains a possibility, I think.

Kat Mortensen said...

You're welcome, and by the way, I did go and read the Muir poem. I had never heard of him, but I will be looking out for him on the used bookstore shelves from now on.

JeannetteLS said...

I read the Muir first, so that I could think about it, about what it might evoke for someone else. Then I read yours and rode the poem to its end without thinking so much as feeling. Apocalyptic and unnerving were the words that said it all for me. I do not analyze poetry well--it speaks to me viscerally. It may inspire me to think more deeply--as this does--but, for me, it was the ride itself. It felt like stream of consciousness, but I am very sure that is simply like watching a great actor or reading a great book... you make it SEEM that easy, that free-flowing.

Anyway, as always, I am jealous of your talent! And so happy that you share it with us all. Your mind must be an unnerving place, sir!

Dave King said...

Kat
I think you'll get a lot from Muir. He has his own mythology. Once you're into that, you are away! Enjoy!

JeannetteLS
Thank you so much once again for your comments. That is not at all a bad way to read poetry!

Dave King said...

Weaver of Grass
That's a massive compliment. Thanks for it.

John Hayes
It's interesting in that the poem was in part an attempt by me to get away from anthropomorphizing the horses by trying to read their visual memories.

Lightverse
And I am deeply affected by your response to it. Thank you so very much.

Linda
I'm sure that's true - that we don't engage with the feral animals on the level of the evil that we do. I hadn't thought that until you raised it, but I think it is so. Many thanks.

Conda
Thank you for that lovely response.

Cloudia
Thanks again.