Horses, by Edwin Muir

Childhood gave this memory to Edwin Muir, and the result seems the opposite of what Bilbo Baggins’ experienced. Bilbo went to find these things outside his native country, while Muir harks back to what he used to have. Muir laments that he lost something. But perhaps he gained in imagination. Maybe his journey was not altogether unlike Bilbo’s after all.

And yet . . . what doesn’t figure in these poems is the failed agrarian life he was too young to take much of part in. He was happy, but his father apparently was not. His family moved several times, seeking better prospects, until they came to industrialized Glasgow. There, in a few short years all died, except for Edwin Muir. Not a happy children’s story.


Those lumbering horses in the steady plough,
On the bare field – I wonder, why, just now,
They seemed terrible, so wild and strange,
Like magic power on the stony grange.

Perhaps some childish hour has come again,
When I watched fearful, through the blackening rain,
Their hooves like pistons in an ancient mill
Move up and down, yet seem as standing still.

Their conquering hooves which trod the stubble down
Were ritual that turned the field to brown,
And their great hulks were seraphims of gold,
Or mute ecstatic monsters on the mould.

And oh the rapture, when, one furrow done,
They marched broad-breasted to the sinking sun!
The light flowed off their bossy sides in flakes;
The furrows rolled behind like struggling snakes.

But when at dusk with steaming nostrils home
They came, they seemed gigantic in the gloam,
And warm and glowing with mysterious fire
That lit their smouldering bodies in the mire.

Their eyes as brilliant and as wide as night
Gleamed with a cruel apocalyptic light,
Their manes the leaping ire of the wind
Lifted with rage invisible and blind.

Ah, now it fades! It fades! And I must pine
Again for the dread country crystalline,
Where the blank field and the still-standing tree
Were bright and fearful presences to me.

3 thoughts on “Horses, by Edwin Muir

  1. The Wiki article says of Muir that he wrote “deeply felt and vivid poetry in plain language with few stylistic preoccupations.”

    There’s a goal.

  2. Yes. And it is true and I, for two, heartily agree.

    But, it also shows the prejudice of our age. Muir recognized in one of this writings that he came at poetry too late to have time for the kind of concern for technical mastery poetry of the sort he was capable of required. In other words, he had to write less effective poems because he didn’t start soon enough to spend years mastering language the way he might have.

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