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My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The little horse's behavior indicates that the speaker has been over this route many times in his sleigh and the horse has become conditioned to know where to expect to stop. This stop is unexpected, and the horse is confused by its owner's behavior. No doubt the speaker lives in the country and regularly drives back and forth to town over this same route. He may stop along the way to ask neighboring farmers if they want him to pick up anything at the store, or just to say hello. The horse is not actually "thinking" but reacting to conditioning. Milk horses are said to have behaved like this in the old days. They would stop automatically in front of a former customer's house even though that customer may have moved away a long time ago. The speaker must have already been to town and is on his way back home with the things he has purchased. This means that the horse is looking forward to getting back to a warm barn, being unhitched, and being given something to eat. Giving his harness bells a shake is the horses way of expressing impatience as well as confusion. If the speaker is going to keep stopping unexpectedly like this, they may never get back home. The horse is not really shaking his harness bells but shaking his head and causing the bells to ring. The speaker is attributing human thoughts and questions to the horse in a half-humorous fashion. Men who have the same horse for a long time may get into a habit of pretending to communicate with the animal even while knowing the horse cannot understand them. They will do the same thing with their dogs.
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