Give an evaluation of the poem "The Horses" by Edwin Muir.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A devastating nuclear war —this brought about the destruction of the world  in the interesting poem "The Horses" by Edwin Muir. The poem begins with strange horses returning to civilization a year after the war.  The narrator recounts the events that occurred during the seven days war.

1st day

The people could hear themselves breathing and were afraid.

2nd day

The radios stopped broadcasting

3rd day

A warship with dead bodies on the deck passed by.

6th day

An airplane flew overhead and plunged into the sea.

The world then was in silence. 

If the radios would again work and “speak,” the surviving citizens would not listen because the world that allowed millions--including children--to die is no longer wanted.

The mechanized world has been abandoned. Horses were once traded for tractors which now stand idle in the fields. The plows are pulled by oxen.

The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust

Again, the poet proclaims the coming of the “strange” horses. First, the people heard the tapping of the hooves as they grew closer and closer. Finally, the onlookers were scared when they saw the horse’s heads. Because they were unfamiliar with horses, they were afraid to go near them.

The horses were shy and stubborn as well. No thought was given to owning the horses or even using them. There were even colts that came with the adult horses, as if they had come from their own paradise. It was as though life was renewing itself.

The people learned to use the horses in their plowing and lifting. Their service to mankind made a great difference in their lives; it was a new start for civilization.  

“The Horses” makes use of many literary devices.


Bible- the seven days war = Genesis and the creation of the world in seven days

Eden-where the horses may have come from= the paradise in which many was first placed


no longer used tractors= dank sea-monsters


Radios=They are dumb [unable to speak], and stand in the corner


The world of the past swallowing the people in one gulp.


the “S” sound in the lines

But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again


The horses represent the return to a less mechanized world where man has to use his hands and back to make his way.  When the horses were replaced, evil took over and the world was destroyed.

Thematically, the poem addresses the possibility of the world self-destructing with a nuclear war. The aftermath portrays a quieter more serene world where man refuses to return to the  chaotic mechanical-filled world of the past. 

With the return of the horses, man no longer needs the technological world on which he was once dependent. Man’s work may be harder, but he wants a life closer to the soil. As in the past, the world will return to a rural civilization where each person or family became independent unto itself.