Edwin Muir: The Horses

Edwin Muir: The Horses

(Poem “The Horses” by Edwin Muir 5/15/1887 – 1/3/1959. Painting by George Stubbs, Mares and Foals in a River Landscape, c.1763–1768)

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.


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