The Horses

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The poem, “The Horses” by “Edwin Muir” is mainly about the effects of nuclear war and the adaptability mankind needs to survive them. In this essay, I will write about the effective features the poem contains. These include structure, imagery, rhyme, rhythm and word order. I thought this was a great poem and these features help me come to that conclusion and make the poem worth reading. First of all, I’ll look at and explain the structure of certain parts of the poem. Here is an interesting example of unusual line structure in this poem: ‘The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer. In this line, semi-colons break up the three separate parts.

This conveys the panic and tension of the distraught survivors as they fumble hopelessly to receive a signal. The semi-colons indicate suspense as they try to do something to help themselves. Also, looking at the poem as a whole, the structure is unusual for that of a poem. It is written as a story, with no regular scheme of structure, almost as one big paragraph. There is also, unusually, a break in the middle of the poem where the two halves are separated. This is also an unusual structural feature for a poem.

Another interesting feature in the poem, however, is the poet’s use of imagery. Here are some examples of effective imagery used in this poem, which help to make it worth reading: ‘Dead bodies piled on the deck… a plane plunged over us into the sea. ‘ This gives us an idea of what happened during the war. The alliteration in ‘piled’ and ‘plane plunged’ helps you create a clearer picture of this horrific image. The word ‘piled’ also tells us that there were so many bodies that they were lying on top of each other in layers rather than just being scattered around the deck.

Another good example of this is: The tractors lie about our fields… we leave them where they are and let them rust. ‘ This shows us how willing the survivors are to reject modern machinery once it breaks down. It also creates a mind picture of what the situation is like after the war. You can just imagine the once used tractors rusting away in a now disused field. Yet another good example is: ‘We make our oxen drag our rusty ploughs… we have gone back, far past our father’s land. ‘ This helps to complete the above picture. The oxen have taken over from the tractors, pulling ploughs which are rusty from neglect.

The field is alive again with animals working whilst the tractors rust away and die. Another interesting feature of the poem is the rhyming scheme. The interesting thing is that there is no rhyming or rhyming scheme in this poem. It is more like an account of/story about what happened than a traditional poem with a regular rhyming scheme. Likewise, there is no repetitive rhythm in the poem or anything to suggest that it is a poem, other than that it is set out in lines and blank verses. This makes it more interesting to read and breaks it up into each point.

This, in turn, makes it less boring. There are also a couple of examples of unusual word order in the poem, which make it worth reading. Here they are: ‘If on the stroke of noon, a voice should speak. ‘ This line contains unusual word order. I think it is written like this to emphasise the if and stroke of noon. This is to tell us that the radios are not likely to come back on so it is if and not when a voice speaks. Another example of this is in the line: ‘Late in the summer, the strange horses came. ‘ Yet again, this is an example of unusual word order.

I think it has been written in this way to put emphasis on Late in the summer. I think that is to tell us that it is quite late on in the survivors struggle when the horses finally arrived to their rescue. I will now describe just how dependant the survivors are on modern machinery and how long it has been since they have had to use horses. The horses are said to be ‘strange’. This is because of the length of time they have spent without them. They have become so used to modern machinery such as tractors to do their work that the horses aren’t needed any more and they are not used to them being around.

Over the years, horses have become legendary figures and it would be strange for them to turn up on your farm after decades without them. Now I will quote a couple of my favourite lines in the poem and ones which, in addition to all the others I have written about, make this poem an enjoyable one to read. ‘The seven days war that put the world to sleep. ‘ This is a euphemistic line, which describes the horror and mass destruction of nuclear war in as nice as possible a way. It is also an ironic reversal of creation. The world was created in seven days and, in the poem, destroyed in seven days.

This quotation indicates how quickly nuclear war can destroy a whole planet. It also tells the reader that the world can be destroyed as quickly as it was created. Here is another effective feature but also one of my favourite lines in the poem. It contains oxymoron and effective use of imagery: ‘But that free-servitude can still pierce our hearts. ‘ This is an example of an oxymoron, when two words that mean the opposite are used together: ‘free-servitude. ‘ It explains that the horses willingly give up their freedom to help the survivors.

This is a very moving gesture and the metaphor ‘pierce our hearts’ shows the survivors’ extreme gratitude. It does not mean that their hearts are literally being pierced, but it is so moving that it has a dramatic affect on the hearts of the survivors. Although they are using the horses for labour, they still admire them for giving of themselves to help humans. I enjoyed this poem because the language used in it helps you to understand it by forming a picture in your head. Instead of having to think hard about the meaning, it sort of jumps out at you.

The poet is very euphemistic in the way he describes the war, as I mentioned earlier. He explains clearly what the survivors had to do to go on without modern conveniences. Their radios had broken and tractors were useless without fuel. They had to turn to horses once again to plough their fields. This shows that no matter how much we advance, we will always need horses (or something from the natural world) at some point to survive. All these things come together to make this poem one which is enjoyable to read and also to write about.

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