The Horses by Edwin Muir

1079 words 5 pages

‘The Horses’, by Edwin Muir, is a poem which forced me to think about the unthinkable – the annihilation of humankind as a result of a nuclear war. Paradoxically, however, Muir seems to me to take an optimistic view of such an event. In my essay I intend to give a synopsis of the poem and discuss some of the techniques that Muir employs to get his message across. I will discuss his use of Biblical language and imagery, the structure of the poem, his rhythm and rhyme and his use of symbolism.

Muir imagines a world brought to an abrupt end by a nuclear war. The poem was written in the 1950s during the period known as ‘The Cold War’. This was a period of our history when people had real
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The rhythm changes frequently – e.g. lines 7-12 become staccato with very short clauses and sentences and frequent punctuation employed to reflect the ‘blow-by-blow’ catalogue of events and the tension of the survivors as they awaited communication from the now-defunct radios. I think this is a suitable rhythm and is illustrated in the following lines:-

“On the second day The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
…………. Thereafter, nothing. The radios dumb;”

Another area where the rhythm is effective is when Muir describes the arrival of the horses. He has structured his sentences and the line divisions of the poem in such a way as to echo the hoofbeats of the horses:-

“We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.”

Finally, I will try to show how Muir employs symbolism effectively in the poem. There are basically two distinct groups of symbols used in the poem: symbols of the old world and those of the new. When Muir refers to the radios, the warship and the warplane he is clearly using them as symbols of the old order that had become technologically advanced. The radio is a symbol of communication – now gone. The reference to the tractors is clearly also a symbol of the old order. By contrast, the horses in particular symbolise the new order. Horses have always had a special bond with Mankind. Over the


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