blog hop · poetry month

Blog Hop: Poetry Month

Trying my hand at a blog hop, here, for April as National Poetry Month.

What’s your favorite poem about horses? If you don’t have a favorite, do some Googling and find one you like! Song lyrics count, too.

Mine is Robert Frost’s The Runaway. It’s one of his earliest, first published in 1918. Frost is my favorite poet, and he often included horses in his poetry. He spent a lot of time in Vermont and he knew Morgans well.

Frost with a foal, c. 1930
Here’s the poem.
ONCE when the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
We stopped by a mountain pasture to say, “Whose colt?”
A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall,
The other curled at his breast. He dipped his head
And snorted to us. And then we saw him bolt.         5
We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
And we saw him, or thought we saw him, dim and gray,
Like a shadow across instead of behind the flakes.
The little fellow’s afraid of the falling snow.
He never saw it before. It isn’t play         10
With the little fellow at all. He’s running away.
He wouldn’t believe when his mother told him, ‘Sakes,
It’s only weather.’ He thought she didn’t know!
So this is something he has to bear alone
And now he comes again with a clatter of stone,         15
He mounts the wall again with whited eyes
Dilated nostrils, and tail held straight up straight.
He shudders his coat as if to throw off flies.
“Whoever it is that leaves him out so late,
When all other creatures have gone to stall and bin,         20
Ought to be told to come and take him in.”
poetry month

Poetry Month: Robert Frost’s "The Runaway"

For as much horse poetry as I’ve read (and that’s a lot) this one remains my favorite.

“The Runaway”
Robert Frost

ONCE when the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
We stopped by a mountain pasture to say, “Whose colt?”
A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall,
The other curled at his breast. He dipped his head
And snorted to us. And then we saw him bolt.         5
We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
And we saw him, or thought we saw him, dim and gray,
Like a shadow across instead of behind the flakes.
The little fellow’s afraid of the falling snow.
He never saw it before. It isn’t play         10
With the little fellow at all. He’s running away.
He wouldn’t believe when his mother told him, ‘Sakes,
It’s only weather.’ He thought she didn’t know!
So this is something he has to bear alone
And now he comes again with a clatter of stone,         15
He mounts the wall again with whited eyes
Dilated nostrils, and tail held straight up straight.
He shudders his coat as if to throw off flies.
“Whoever it is that leaves him out so late,
When all other creatures have gone to stall and bin,         20
Ought to be told to come and take him in.”

Do you have a favorite poem about horses?
poetry month

In honor of poetry month: Robert Frost and a Morgan colt

Thanks to stupid privacy restrictions, I could not embed this video, but if you want a Friday break, click on the link above to see the poet Robert Frost with a lovely gangly-legged chestnut Morgan colt, about a minute and a half in to a 2:30 video. Frost had a summer home in Ripton, Vermont, literally two houses down from where I lived some years ago right after college, during that long first winter I owned Tristan. (Because, Vermont.)
Watching it put me in mind of one of my favorite Frost poems, “The Runaway.”
ONCE when the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
We stopped by a mountain pasture to say, “Whose colt?”
A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall,
The other curled at his breast. He dipped his head
And snorted to us. And then we saw him bolt.         5
We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
And we saw him, or thought we saw him, dim and gray,
Like a shadow across instead of behind the flakes.
The little fellow’s afraid of the falling snow.
He never saw it before. It isn’t play         10
With the little fellow at all. He’s running away.
He wouldn’t believe when his mother told him, ‘Sakes,
It’s only weather.’ He thought she didn’t know!
So this is something he has to bear alone
And now he comes again with a clatter of stone,         15
He mounts the wall again with whited eyes
Dilated nostrils, and tail held straight up straight.
He shudders his coat as if to throw off flies.
“Whoever it is that leaves him out so late,
When all other creatures have gone to stall and bin,         20
Ought to be told to come and take him in.”
poetry month

Poetry Month Day 6: William Rose Benet, "The Horse Thief"

I discovered this poem while reading up for this series. I love it. It’s long, but absolutely worth it.

“The Horse Thief”
William Rose Benet

THERE he moved, cropping the grass at the purple canyon’s lip. 
His mane was mixed with the moonlight that silvered his snow-white side,
For the moon sailed out of a cloud with the wake of a spectral ship. 
I crouched and I crawled on my belly, my lariat coil looped wide.

Dimly and dark the mesas broke on the starry sky.        5 
A pall covered every color of their gorgeous glory at noon.
I smelt the yucca and mesquite, and stifled my heart’s quick cry, 
And wormed and crawled on my belly to where he moved against the moon!

Some Moorish barb was that mustang’s sire. His lines were beyond all wonder. 
From the prick of his ears to the flow of his tail he ached in my throat and eyes.        10
Steel and velvet grace! As the prophet says, God had “clothed his neck with thunder.” 
Oh, marvelous with the drifting cloud he drifted across the skies!

And then I was near at hand—crouched, and balanced, and cast the coil; 
And the moon was smothered in cloud, and the rope through my hands with a rip!
But somehow I gripped and clung, with the blood in my brain aboil,—        15 
With a turn round the rugged tree-stump there on the purple canyon’s lip.

Right into the stars he reared aloft, his red eye rolling and raging. 
He whirled and sunfished and lashed, and rocked the earth to thunder and flame.
He squealed like a regular devil horse. I was haggard and spent and aging— 
Roped clean, but almost storming clear, his fury too fierce to tame.        20

And I cursed myself for a tenderfoot moon-dazzled to play the part, 
But I was doubly desperate then, with the posse pulled out from town,
Or I’d never have tried it. I only knew I must get a mount and a start. 
The filly had snapped her foreleg short. I had had to shoot her down.

So there he struggled and strangled, and I snubbed him around the tree.        25 
Nearer, a little nearer—hoofs planted, and lolling tongue—
Till a sudden slack pitched me backward. He reared right on top of me. 
Mother of God—that moment! He missed me … and up I swung.

Somehow, gone daft completely and clawing a bunch of his mane, 
As he stumbled and tripped in the lariat, there I was—up and astride        30
And cursing for seven counties! And the mustang? Just insane! 
Crack-bang! went the rope; we cannoned off the tree—then—gods, that ride!

A rocket—that’s all, a rocket! I dug with my teeth and nails. 
Why, we never hit even the high spots (though I hardly remember things),
But I heard a monstrous booming like a thunder of flapping sails        35 
When he spread—well, call me a liar!—when he spread those wings, those wings!

So white that my eyes were blinded, thick-feathered and wide unfurled 
They beat the air into billows. We sailed, and the earth was gone.
Canyon and desert and mesa withered below, with the world. 
And then I knew that mustang; for I—was Bellerophon!        40

Yes, glad as the Greek, and mounted on a horse of the elder gods, 
With never a magic bridle or a fountain-mirror nigh!
My chaps and spurs and holster must have looked it? What’s the odds? 
I’d a leg over lightning and thunder, careering across the sky!

And forever streaming before me, fanning my forehead cool,        45 
Flowed a mane of molten silver; and just before my thighs
(As I gripped his velvet-muscled ribs, while I cursed myself for a fool), 
The steady pulse of those pinions—their wonderful fall and rise!

The bandanna I bought in Bowie blew loose and whipped from my neck. 
My shirt was stuck to my shoulders and ribboning out behind.        50
The stars were dancing, wheeling and glancing, dipping with smirk and beck. 
The clouds were flowing, dusking and glowing. We rode a roaring wind.

We soared through the silver starlight to knock at the planets’ gates. 
New shimmering constellations came whirling into our ken.
Red stars and green and golden swung out of the void that waits        55 
For man’s great last adventure; the Signs took shape—and then

I knew the lines of that Centaur the moment I saw him come! 
The musical-box of the heavens all around us rolled to a tune
That tinkled and chimed and trilled with silver sounds that struck you dumb, 
As if some archangel were grinding out the music of the moon.        60

Melody-drunk on the Milky Way, as we swept and soared hilarious, 
Full in our pathway, sudden he stood—the Centaur of the Stars,
Flashing from head and hoofs and breast! I knew him for Sagittarius. 
He reared, and bent and drew his bow. He crouched as a boxer spars.

Flung back on his haunches, weird he loomed—then leapt—end the dim void lightened.        65 
Old White Wings shied and swerved aside, and fled from the splendor-shod.
Through a flashing welter of worlds we charged. I knew why my horse was frightened.  He had two faces—a dog’s and a man’s—that Babylonian god!

Also, he followed us real as fear. Ping! went an arrow past. 
My broncho buck-jumped, humping high. We plunged … I guess that’s all!        70
I lay on the purple canyon’s lip, when I opened my eyes at last— 
Stiff and sore and my head like a drum, but I broke no bones in the fall.

So you know—and now you may string me up. Such was the way you caught me. 
Thank you for letting me tell it straight, though you never could greatly care.
For I took a horse that wasn’t mine!… But there’s one the heavens brought me,        75 
And I’ll hang right happy, because I know he is waiting for me up there.

From creamy muzzle to cannon-bone, by God, he’s a peerless wonder! 
He is steel and velvet and furnace-fire, and death’s supremest prize;
And never again shall be roped on earth that neck that is “clothed with thunder” … 
String me up, Dave! Go dig my gravel! I rode him across the skies,        80

poetry month

Poetry Month Day 5: Thomas Buchanan Read, "Sheridan’s Ride"

I almost named Tristan after Sheridan’s horse in this poem. His name was Rienzi, renamed Winchester after his arrival at the battle, and today he’s taxidermied and on display at the Smithsonian. (He doesn’t look as grim as you’d think.)

“Sheridan’s Ride”
Thomas Buchanan Read

UP from the South at break of day,  
Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay,  
The affrighted air with a shudder bore,  
Like a herald in haste, to the chieftain’s door,  
The terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,          5
Telling the battle was on once more,  
And Sheridan twenty miles away.  
  
And wider still those billows of war,  
Thundered along the horizon’s bar;  
And louder yet into Winchester rolled   10
The roar of that red sea uncontrolled,  
Making the blood of the listener cold,  
As he thought of the stake in that fiery fray,  
And Sheridan twenty miles away.  
  
But there is a road from Winchester town,   15
A good, broad highway leading down;  
And there, through the flush of the morning light,  
A steed as black as the steeds of night,  
Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight,  
As if he knew the terrible need;   20
He stretched away with his utmost speed;  
Hills rose and fell; but his heart was gay,  
With Sheridan fifteen miles away.  
  
Still sprung from those swift hoofs, thundering South,  
The dust, like smoke from the cannon’s mouth;   25
Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster,  
Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster.  
The heart of the steed, and the heart of the master  
Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls,  
Impatient to be where the battle-field calls;   30
Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play,  
With Sheridan only ten miles away.  
  
Under his spurning feet the road  
Like an arrowy Alpine river flowed,  
And the landscape sped away behind   35
Like an ocean flying before the wind,  
And the steed, like a barque fed with furnace ire,  
Swept on, with his wild eyes full of fire.  
But lo! he is nearing his heart’s desire;  
He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray,   40
With Sheridan only five miles away.  
  
The first that the general saw were the groups  
Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops;  
What was done? what to do? a glance told him both,  
Then, striking his spurs, with a terrible oath,   45
He dashed down the line ‘mid a storm of huzzas,  
And the wave of retreat checked its course there, because  
The sight of the master compelled it to pause.  
With foam and with dust the black charger was gray;  
By the flash of his eye, and the red nostril’s play,   50
He seemed to the whole great army to say,  
“I have brought you Sheridan all the way  
From Winchester, down to save the day!”  
  
Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!  
Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!   55
And when their statues are placed on high,  
Under the dome of the Union sky,  
The American soldier’s Temple of Fame;  
There with the glorious general’s name,  
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright,   60
  “Here is the steed that saved the day,  
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,  
  From Winchester, twenty miles away!”
poetry month

Poetry Month Day 4: William Henry Ogilvie "The Pearl of Them All"

This is a poem I discovered while getting ready for posting all these, and I love it.

“The Pearl of Them All”
William Henry Ogilvie

Gaily in front of the stockwhip
The horses come galloping home,
Leaping and bucking and playing
With sides all a lather of foam;
But painfully, slowly behind them,
With head to the crack of the fall,
And trying so gamely to follow
Comes limping the pearl of them all.

He is stumbling and stiff in the shoulder,
And splints from the hoof to the knee,
But never a horse on the station
Has half such a spirit as he;
Give these all the boast of their breeding
These pets of the paddock and stall,
But ten years ago not their proudest
Could live with the pearl of them all.

No journey has ever yet beat him,
No day was too heavy or hard,
He was king of the camp and the muster
And pride of the wings of the yard;
But Time is relentless to follow;
The best of us bow to his thrall;
And death, with his scythe on his shoulder,
Is dogging the pearl of them all.

I watch him go whinnying past me,
And memories come with a whirl
Of reckless, wild rides with a comrade
And laughing, gay rides with a girl —
How she decked him with lilies and love-knots
And plaited his mane at my side,
And once in the grief of a parting
She threw her arms round him and cried.
And I promised — I gave her my promise
The night that we parted in tears,
To keep and be kind to the old horse
Till Time made a burden of years;
And then for his sake and one woman’s…
So, fetch me my gun from the wall!
I have only this kindness to offer
As gift to the pearl of them all.

Here! hold him out there by the yard wing,
And don’t let him know by a sign:
Turn his head to you — ever so little!
I can’t bear his eyes to meet mine.
Then — stand still, old boy! for a moment …
These tears, how they blind as they fall!
Now, God help my hand to be steady…
Good-bye! — to the pearl of them all!

poetry month

Poetry Month Day 3: Ted Hughes, "The Horses"

I run hot and cold on Ted Hughes; he was Sylvia Plath’s husband, and I generally find him a bit opaque and modern. But he wrote quite a bit about horses. This one is probably my favorite.

“The Horses”
Ted Hughes

I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird –
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness

Till the moorline – blackening dregs of the brightening grey –
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Huge in the dense grey – ten together –
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.

I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments

Of a grey silent world.

I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew’s tear turned its edge on the silence.

Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted

Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

And the big planets hanging –
I turned

Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,

Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them

The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays –

In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.