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"The Horses" By Edwin Muir
"The Horses" is a poem by Edwin Muir. It tells the story of a world ravaged by nuclear war, where the few survivors live hopelessly in a desolate reality. Their outlook is changed by the arrival of the horses, a relic of the past which lets them rediscover humanity\'s bond with nature.
"The Horses", as well as being a very beautiful and moving poem, has an important message to convey. The poet uses various methods to illustrate this.
Throughout the poem, there are many biblical references. The nuclear war is described as a "seven days war", which is an allusion to Genesis, the creation and destruction of the world in seven days. This idea is furthered by the use of the phrases "our fathers\' land" and "our fathers\' time". The word \'covenant\' has connotations of the \'Arc of Covenant\', the Israelites sacred vow to God. And later in the poem, the horses are described as appearing from their own \'Eden\', another biblical reference.
This illustrates the importance of the poem\'s subject matter, by introducing a parallel to the Bible. It bears a resemblance to when God flooded the world, to wipe out all sin and allow the few on Noah\'s Ark to rebuild a new, better world.
This poem also shows the totality of nuclear war. Although there are survivors, the ammount of death and destruction is immense. It takes so little time to destroy the world, in a way a punishment for mankind\'s vanity and arrogance. Technology, for so long thought to be a development for the good of mankind, is the very thing responsible for the cataclysm of earth. Tractors, which replaced horses, "lie about our fields", useless and wasted. And it is the horses, a representative of nature, who save earth, and not technology. The failure of technology is very important in this poem. Not only do most of the world’s population die, the use and respect for technology dies. The radios lie “dumb”, a personification which resembles the “impenetrable sorrow” in which whole nations lie.
The author uses words like "gulp" and "swallowed" to show that, in a way, Mother Earth has devoured her own children. This shocking cannibalism shows just how terrifying a prospect nuclear war is. It also furthers the idea of humanity returning to nature. In the same way the survivors return to more natural resources, returning to their roots, so the dead too are returning to their roots.
There is also a message about the relationship with, and abuse of, nature. This new chance for a more peaceful existence works on the assumption that the horses are there voluntarily. This makes the newfound relationship more meaningful, less precarious: “that free servitude still can pierce our hearts”. There is also therein a warning that the world cannot work where one force is overpowering, such as technology or the reign of man.
However the message from this poem is not completely pessimistic. The horses show that there is a chance, it is not too late. There is a tone of peacefulness, serenity, created by mentions of sleep and silence. Maybe by this the poet means that although we run the risk of ruining humanity’s equilibrium by being too pushy and commandeering, we can still save ourselves, and keep control over the technology we already have. This poem does not only comment on nuclear war, but many issues which today’s population face. While we have the nuclear capability to destroy the world several times over, we are also making new discoveries in genetic engineering, exploiting already dwindling species of animals, indulging in deforestation, and almost never ending conventional war. All of these are controversial issues, which threaten us, but are also redeemable, as Edwin Muir illustrates.
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Nuclear warfare, Horse
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