from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

3 Horse poems, by Barbara Farley, Edwin Muir, and me


The anything-goes, Jazz Age, over-the-top,
up-and-at-‘em, to-the-gate-then-back-again
horses have returned to the lower pasture.
Under the blackbird’s swinging rhythm sound
the bass notes of their loud harrumphs.

Wake to kettle drum thunder as they gallop
first this way then that, the cymbal crash
of their hooves through the stream,
the drunk-on-the-moment, blood-pumping
stomp of this crazy rag-time band.

Barbara Farley

This poem by Barbara, who attends my regular 'Two Rivers' poetry days, was written at one of those day workshops, and captivated me when I heard it read aloud. I can think of almost no equivalent poem that so portrays the energy of horse, and so conveys their exuberant herd-energy turned loose at pasture. Barbara's own delight in witnessing their joy positively steams off the poem. I'd recommend reading it aloud a couple of times. Thank you, Barbara, for your permission to post it here.

My ears and eyes are tuned to horse medicine, as I mentioned a few posts ago. Companions of the human for so many thousands of years, how might they not find resonance still somewhere in our ancestral memory, if not in our blood, heart, imaginations? Consequently, I also notice good poems about horses, of which there are a number; I'm thinking here of Ted Hughes, James Wright, Kenneth Steven, James Dickey, Jane Hirshfield. If you have any favourites, I’d love to know. I've just discovered that there's a website dedicated to poems about horses, if you too appreciate horse medicine; the link doesn’t want to paste, so google ‘poems about horses’.

My personal favourite is probably that by the Orkney poet Edwin Muir which, as you’ll see below if you don't know the poem already, is both about horses, and about so much more besides. I read into it too a lament for how we have lost our way; and how horses and horse medicine can represent and also offer something of 'essential spirit' as we find a way forward in our dislocated war-torn over-industrialised world.

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, 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 moulder away and be like other loam.'

We make our oxen drag our rusty ploughs,

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 ploughs and borne our loads

But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.

Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Edwin Muir

Finally,  a little poem of my own about my daughter's Arab/Welsh colt, Cirrus, who filled our lives with so much grace and curiosity and animal-affection from the day he was born until the day he died, only 13, as a result of another's mistake:

Going into the meadow after the retreat

In the meditation hall
we interrogate the silence
for a way of being human

then later again
barefoot and slow on wet spring
grass in the wild dervish storm

and back
picking twigs, ash, feathers
out of the ‘no inside no outside’ teachings

later, home
the horse’s light breath on my cheek
the way he delicately politely

only just
meeting my eyes reads my face
hands hair with his gentle muzzle

as if he smells
questions, as if I were an event
blown in on the whirling wind

as if
from within the zero
of Zen in which he dwells

he barely
recognises me, each thing wholly
new, every encounter the first.

Roselle Angwin (published in Bardo, Shearmsan 2011)


  1. Of the three poems yours really touched me. It reminded me of countless encounters with my dogs over the years. I have so often thought that animals have Buddha nature.

  2. Three very different interpretations of horse, each powerful in its own way, Muir's on an epic scale. Thanks, Roselle.

  3. Angie, thank you :-).

    Gerald, also thank you! And I've only just found your THE SWASH ZONE blog - excellent.

  4. Three wonderful poems, what a treat! Lots to think about too and be inspired by. Thank you.

  5. Hello and thanks, Hilaire! Hope you're doing well up there in your Welsh lair (sorry about all the chiming sounds - couldn't resist!). Rx


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