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.
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