Guest poem sent in by Simon Pereira Shorey
(Poem #1378) The Horses
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.
(1887-1959) A deeply moving poem, I first came across it in the English countryside in the 1970's when the Cold War was at it's height and the idea of a nuclear exchange initiating an apocalypse was not too far away. Now living in Manhattan through September 11th, the idea of a biological warfare catastrophe seems no longer confined to the pages of science fiction novels. The contrast between the purity of the horses and the corruption of mechanized 'civilization' has a strong elegiac quality. Simon Pereira Shorey Biography: See Poem #1233