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Icons of power, speed, and civilization since they were first domesticated thousands of years ago, horses are among the most majestic creatures to wander the earth. The extent to which humans’ lives have been enriched by these animals is immeasurable: many of our most basic habits of work, play, transport, and warfare would have been impossible without them. It is no wonder that this profound relationship has inspired countless works of art, from ancient times to the present. This collection is a sampling across the centuries of the ways horses have been contemplated and celebrated in poetry.
The horse has served as warrior, laborer, mail carrier, competitive athlete, rodeo entertainer, friend, and—above al—object of wonder. In this anthology’s opening section, ‘Entering the World’, Ted Hughes offers a tender evocation of a foal’s first steps on the way to becoming ‘perfect Horse’: ‘His nose / Downy and magnetic, draws him, incredulous, / Towards his mother. And the world is warm / And careful and gentle. Touch by touch / Everything fits him together.’
The following section, ‘Horse and Rider’, focuses on the elemental human–horse connection, with poems by E. E. Cummings, Basil Bunting, and Richard Wilbur, along with perhaps the most famous contemporary poem about a journey on horseback—Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping byWoods on a Snowy Evening—in which a horse, for a change, wonders at human mystery.
‘Horses in Mind’ ventures into abstract and dreamlike manifestations.For Witter Bynner and Sylvia Plath, untamed horses are apt metaphors for the elusiveness of language. Paul Muldoon ponders ‘if I’m a man dreaming I’m a plowhorse / or a great plowhorse dreaming I’m a man.’ And Carl Phillips imagines that a ‘horse is entering / the sea, and the sea / holds it.’
Elsewhere, horses are honored for their pastoral and hunting work by poets such as Gary Snyder, Maxine Kumin, and Seamus Heaney. Poems by Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and others commemorate the horse’s role in battle, and a brief section touches on the colorful tradition of cowboy poetry on the American frontier.
The poems in ‘Equine Encounters’ describe revelatory meetings between our species, and in the final section poets honor the horse in memory and in grief. ‘They have pulled our ploughs and borne our load,’ writes Edwin Muir. ‘But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.’ Thanks to the amazing bond we have known with horses throughout history, ‘Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.’