Edwin Muir

(15 May 1887 – 3 January 1959 / Orkney / Scotland)

The Horses

Poem by Edwin Muir

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, heading 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 couched 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.

Topic(s) of this poem: horse


Comments about The Horses by Edwin Muir

  • marlen (3/26/2020 11:18:00 AM)

    studied this poem when in school 60years ago seems relevant to the awful happenings of today(Report)Reply

    Christian(5/2/2020 4:06:00 AM)

    I came back to this poem today to find again just how it said " Thereafter nothing" , but all of the words are right. Within the wider Corona destruction, my family has failed and I have lost my two boys of 7 and 2, and finally last Sunday all the talking with their mother was at an end.

    3 person liked.
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  • Annette (10/24/2019 7:26:00 AM)

    It's almost like a film. So atmospheric and makes you feel humble when you realise how ineffective we are without our radios and tractors and " stuff" yet the horses still come to our aid.(Report)Reply

    0 person liked.
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  • Keren Carter (10/5/2019 5:01:00 AM)

    A brilliant atmospheric piece on regeneration and ultimately hope. 'Free servitude' an affecting idea. Like my dog.(Report)Reply

    0 person liked.
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  • alexis (5/19/2019 7:07:00 PM)

    what is the connection of this poem to the world?(Report)Reply

    Vince Handley(12/18/2019 12:15:00 PM)

    A war which lasted seven days has wiped out civilisation. A year on, a small community survives. They are not in contact with any other community. Nor are they sure if other communities have survived. The survivors must carry on living. A herd of horses arrive, also survivors, also isolated. Slowly, the humans and the horses renew their ancient bond. Their mutual survival becomes more certain.

    0 person liked.
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  • Scarlette (3/21/2019 12:46:00 AM)

    I don’t get the poem
    It’s confusing me
    What is he talking about?(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Your mum (11/27/2018 8:26:00 AM)

    Bored of higher english amiritttt(Report)Reply

    Fellow higher English student(6/26/2019 4:35:00 AM)

    Amen! ! ! !

    4 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • Shaun (8/14/2018 5:26:00 AM)

    I need 20 lines poem on animals but i am not getting one so u its bad and the person who is singing the poem that person is annoying so do something(Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
    7 person did not like.
  • Maureen Fox (6/21/2018 3:46:00 AM)

    This is a truly memorable poem that encapsulates my personal feelings of connection with horses despite my inability to ride. Romantic? Perhaps. But deep feelings and connections sometimes do wear romantic garments and are not of less importance by doing so.(Report)Reply

    Phil Ball(4/4/2020 5:33:00 AM)

    It's nothing to do with horses. The horses are a metaphor for our general neglect of nature.

    4 person liked.
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  • Lalit (6/17/2018 10:13:00 PM)

    Please add poetic devices also(Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
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  • Adol Hitler (4/23/2018 3:47:00 AM)

    Yooo, this poem is as good as the sticky icky, finna bust a nutt over the screen. YEET.(Report)Reply

    TheFastAndTheFuhrerious(4/24/2019 1:58:00 PM)

    bruh, ur mom gae
    #gamersriseup

    2 person liked.
    4 person did not like.
  • Sakhi (3/5/2018 9:01:00 AM)

    Mujhe ek question ka answer chahiye How do the children pass their time on TV Plz answer me.(Report)Reply

    june uribe(8/13/2018 4:26:00 PM)

    We read this poem at school in lusaka in 1960, and I haven't found it in any of the poetry books I have, so I am delightrd to have tracked down! It still moves me, over 50 years on.

    2 person liked.
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  • ryan just ryan (11/13/2017 3:56:00 PM)

    this poem sucks hard body I gotta do dis for school #bored af(Report)Reply

    3 person liked.
    14 person did not like.
  • Freda Adams (1/1/2017 3:51:00 AM)

    Let us hope President Trump reads this and thinks awhile!(Report)Reply

    13 person liked.
    13 person did not like.
  • Freda Adams (1/1/2017 3:49:00 AM)

    Let us hope that President Trump reads this poem and thinks awhile!(Report)Reply

    10 person liked.
    12 person did not like.
  • Anne WilliamsAnne Williams (3/27/2016 11:04:00 AM)

    Lovely writing - maybe Eden is childhood too?(Report)Reply

    7 person liked.
    3 person did not like.
  • KinkyMan 6969 (1/20/2015 8:32:00 AM)

    Wow Edwin is a wet man... He gets poon #420(Report)Reply

    99 person liked.
    13 person did not like.
  • Brian JaniBrian Jani (5/10/2014 6:07:00 PM)

    Well written poem Edwin(Report)Reply

    16 person liked.
    29 person did not like.
  • Dianne Aslett (9/21/2012 9:35:00 AM)

    People in this poem are scared of their own breathing because this takes them back to the bare essentials of 'LIFE', how vulnerable life is, how alone individuals really are. Silence is often scary and particularly in our world which with all the noise and haste involved in a technological age is quite a rare thing and not sufficiently explored or valued.They cannot, and do not want to hear the radio's news again as it only announced bad news, and fearful news about violence and destructiveness... They also realise how destructive the technology they have created can be, and when they see the horses they feel guilty that they ever SOLD them to BUY TRACTORS. The tractors themselves are now experienced as frightening because they represent the dangers, the terrors of techological development also. They are 'couched and waiting' and they 'leave them to rust'. ~The HORSES are 'natural life', they represent natures power which is also scary, and the people at first fear their 'wildness' and do not appreciate that they can once again be of help to man, they can once again serve man. The poem ends with a sense of gratitude for the return of companionship and 'free servitude' of the horses, and how the human's lives can now have hope in them once again, and a new future.The moral of the story is: do not neglect nature. We are part of nature and we need to value her and seek relationship with her. She can offer healing and helpful and regenerating properties to us. We ignore and rape her at our peril. The natural world is essential to our survival and always will be...Do not become so obsessed with technological advances and kudos that you forget your enormous dependency and gratitude to Nature. Techo whiz kids/obsessives TAKE NOTE! ! .~ Dianne A.(Report)Reply

    54 person liked.
    36 person did not like.
  • L. S. (6/9/2012 9:49:00 PM)

    Guys, it's not about technology being our doom or how technology is basically evil and unreliable and that we should all go back to using horses. If anything technology is double sided sword; with great power comes great responsibility. This poem is about the aftermath of a post-apocalyptic event and how we possibly would need to fall back to more primitive times for specific reasons, such as no electricity. Go figure, who would of guessed that radios don't work without electricity? Maybe it's a misunderstanding of technology in our older generations that leads to the assumption that all technology is just plain garbage.

    Great poem by the way!(Report)Reply

    37 person liked.
    24 person did not like.
  • Tom Adams (4/7/2010 5:13:00 AM)

    This is one of my favourite poems, James Grant put some music to it on his album 'I Shot the Albatross' Well worth a listen. I think the underlying message is that we, by our nature, do tend to ruin the world we live in, be that with our technology, our attitude or even apathy, In the poem we are waiting to hear something from the radios, it takes the intervention of the horses to show us the way and bring us into action. Perhaps the message could be that no matter what we do, nature will come through for us in the end, maybe then we realise what we had in our forefathers time. It is an optimistic point of view, perhaps the message is to change our ways before this happens. I don't believe all is lost, I just think we have to consider what we are doing more carefully, Muir knew this even then, perhaps we have not learned as yet.(Report)Reply

    33 person liked.
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Read poems about / on: sea, world, sometimes, sorrow, war, silence, summer, children, sleep, lost, father, horse, change, child



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

Poem Edited: Friday, January 23, 2015


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