Study Guide

Names of Horses

by Donald Hall

Names of Horses eText - eText

Text of the Poem

All winter your brute shoulders strained against
     collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul 
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and
     summer, 
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the
     simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread
     on the fields, 
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own
     clustered with oats. 
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and
     hayfield, the mowing machine 
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high
     in the morning; 
and after noon's heat, you pulled a clawed rake
     through the same acres,

gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from
     stack to stack, 
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy
     barn, 
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the
     morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with
     the light load 
of a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the
     sound of hymns. 
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the
     windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the seas 
     smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders
     hurt bending to graze, 
one October the man, who fed you and kept you,
     and harnessed you every morning, 
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground
     above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood       
     shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun's muzzle in the boneless
     hollow behind your ear, 
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you
     into your grave, 
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod
     upright above you, 
where by the next summer a dent in the ground
     made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the pasture of         
     dead horses, 
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves
     of your ribs, 
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn,
     and in winter 
frost heaved your bones in the ground—old toilers,
     soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, 
     Lady Ghost.