Tag Archives: horse

Odd poem: Robert Frost, ‘The Draft Horse’

With a lantern that wouldn’t burn
In too frail a buggy we drove
Behind too heavy a horse
Through a pitch-dark limitless grove.

And a man came out of the trees
And took our horse by the head
And reaching back to his ribs
Deliberately stabbed him dead.

The ponderous beast went down
With a crack of a broken shaft.
And the night drew through the trees
In one long invidious draft.

The most unquestioning pair
That ever accepted fate
And the least disposed to ascribe
Any more than we had to to hate,

We assumed that the man himself
Or someone he had to obey
Wanted us to get down
And walk the rest of the way.

At a poetry reading in the Library of Congress, Robert Frost apparently described “The Draft Horse” as a poem “that nobody knows how to take“. That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that everyone who reads it seems to quite confidently take it in a different direction.

It has been called an allegory of the atom bomb–but, though first published in 1962, it was actually written in the 1920s, long before the bomb.

It’s been called an allegory of American expansionism.

It has been suggested as “a metaphor for the lives of ordinary citizens in totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and West Germany.” (West Germany. Really.) “Then the man could be an agent of the government, who does what he deems necessary and then disappears again.

Again, “In many cultures, the horse is traditionally a symbol for power. The horse has played a large role in American history. Robert Frost’s The Draft Horse may be a reflection of the power struggles he saw around him and the senseless actions he perceived in the conflicts.

How about “One analysis of the poem is that fate is unavoidable. Why struggle to stop or question fate when by its very definition it cannot be stopped?

Here’s the complete commentary from one blogger: “I’m on a bit of a poetry moment right now. The Draft Horse by Robert Frost is possibly one of the best poems ever written and well worth sharing with anyone willing to read writing at it’s highest art form.” (“it’s”, sic. Also, he miscopied one of the lines as “Any more than we had to hate,” thereby losing the meaning.) A more extensive commentary is in a comment posted to that blog:

I love this poem ! i think it is a great description of postlapsarian life. Laterns wont burn buggies are frail, the horse is too heavy.the night is so dark …
amidst all that a fellow deliberately stabs your horse.

People of good will are always hesitant to blame problems on hate.
and any way walking is a fine way to get there

And then there’s this thesis towards an M.A.:
WHY I KILLED THE DRAFT HORSE:
THE GOLDEN BOUGH, ROBERT FROST, AND “PROGRESS”
by Eugene Charles McGregor Boyle III

August 2013
The absence of criticism on Robert Frost’s “The Draft Horse” suggests that it is a challenge to Frost scholarship. This reading views Frost’s strange and neglected poem as a return to a monomyth offered by James Frazer’s hugely influential The Golden Bough. In “The Draft Horse,” Frost reconsiders the concept of ceremonial sacrifice that undergirds Frazer’s encyclopedic study of world culture and, by performing ceremony as a kind of modem poesis, Frost complicates the hero/sacrificial object role and critiques the progressive ideology that grounds Frazer’s account to fashion a troubling epic for modern America that implicates its national readers in a kind of savagery.

(Supported with references not just to Frazer’s “Golden Bough” and Eliot’s “Wasteland”, but also Dante’s “Inferno” and Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu”, among others.)

Here is another take on it: “This is a very simple, straightforward story, but the reader cannot just leave it like that. Why would Frost have written this poem if he had only wanted to say “a stranger killed a horse”? The reader is therefore faced with the fact that “The Draft Horse” is a symbolic poem that must be read at another level, otherwise it has no purpose.

Well, why does it have to have a “purpose”? It’s a poem, for god’s sake. Maybe the poem “means” exactly what one or other of the above-quoted commenters thinks… but maybe Frost just had a strange dream. Or maybe someone had told him of an incident. Maybe the rhymes and images just floated around in his head. Who knows? Who cares? It’s a poem and, for some reason, it resonates (differently) with a lot of people. It’s an odd poem. Enjoy!

“Horse and Buggy on a Bush Track” by Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies is licensed under openverse from WordPress.org

Short poem: ‘Golden Childhood’

Golden girl on a sunset beach
With a dog and a horse,
Golden boy spears a silver shark
Under the sea;

Is such a dream forever in reach
Or forever false?
We stumble, emotional, through the warm dark
Back to the sea.

I wrote this in my 20s when I was saying goodbye to the Bahamas – my father had died, my mother had sold the house and moved back to Europe. For the next few decades I lived in Denmark, Canada, the US… but eventually came back to the sea.

The poem was originally published in Candelabrum. I always had difficulty with that seventh line. Originally it had “emotionally”, and I sort of justified it with the line itself being a stumble… but it’s a bad line, too many syllables, too many consonants. Sometimes when I submit a poem to a magazine, the editor points out a flaw, and more rarely, offers a useful alternative. Poems can always be tinkered with.

Photo cropped from “Girl riding a horse at sunset on Bali” by Jimmy McIntyre – Editor HDR One Magazine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Winter Night Roads’

Full midnight moon on fields that yield but snows,
Air apple-clean, crisp, sweet
In lungs and nose,
The only sound your feet
Past silent woods –
Inhaling moods and modes
Of midnight roads.

In twenty minutes, you hear only this:
A dog bark twice. An owl hoot once.
A horse snort by a fence.
Some heavy breath behind a hedge: a cow.
A mile away a car’s lights show, then go.
You walk unknown, alone, towards some place
With light and life, perhaps a warm cafe
To make a break in travelling towards day.

This quiet little winter poem (sorry about the timing, Australia…) was first published in The Orchards Poetry Journal. The editors tend toward the bucolic and the formal… but they make exceptions, thank goodness, because this piece is not quite formal. It may be in iambics, but without a pattern to the line length or to what rhyme there is.

But it’s true to the winter outdoor experience–and pleasant enough, so long as you have good boots and adequate clothes!

Photo: “Moonlight” by Jyrki Salmi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0