(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Roan Stallion” is the best known and most often reprinted of Jeffers’s narrative poems; it is also the most compact and most concentrated. Unlike the majority of the others, it is simple in plot construction, makes little use of the abnormal, and is concrete in detail. It consists of three episodes, each connected directly to the one following.

The first introduces California, a twenty-one-year-old quarter-Indian, quarter-Spaniard, half-Scot woman, whose husband, Johnny, has just won a prize stallion by gambling. Preoccupied by the game and his habitual drinking, he has neglected to get anything for their daughter, Christine, for Christmas. To make up for it, California will have to go to Monterey on Christmas Eve. She tries to leave early, but he demands that she have sex with him before leaving. His insistence and lack of compassion make her late. As a result, she cannot return before nightfall, and she must ford a rain-swollen river. Twice the mare balks, the second time nearly overturning the wagon, apparently startled by the apparition of the infant Jesus. Finally California abandons the wagon and swims the mare across, careful not to damage her daughter’s presents.

In her memories of the apparition, she persistently mixes the image of the stallion with the image of God. That spring, after spending a day breeding horses, Johnny leaves to spend the weekend drinking. Restless, California goes out after nightfall to ease herself with a moonlit ride into the hills, only to find that Johnny has taken the mare. Fantasizing a sexual union with the stallion, she decides to take it instead. The climb is ecstatic. On the peak, she feels herself rapt in union with...

(The entire section is 692 words.)