What are the themes covered in "At Grass" by Philip Larkin?
This excellent poem uses the sight of two horses who were formerly famous but are now "at grass" in their dotage to discuss the place of growing old and fame in our lives. Clearly the horses act as symbols of animals who have known great success in their time, but now are enjoying a tranquil life, being placed in a pleasant meadow. Now they are described as being "anonymous," free to enjoy life without fame. However, stanzas two and three deal with their glory days and compare the fame and praise they received with their lifestyle now. Stanza four begins with a very pertinent question that links to the central theme of this poem:
Do memories plague their ears like flies?
That is, are they haunted or constantly nagged by their former glory days in comparison with their life now? Can they ever live a "normal" life after the success they have enjoyed, or will the rest of their days be full of regret for what has passed, for what has been "summer by summer all stole away"? All they are left with now is the "unmolesting meadows," which may sound pleasant, but can hardly compare to the jolt of excitement of the "starting gates." The only relationship they have now is with the grooms that look after them.
Thus this poem looks at the process of growing old and the necessary lifestyle changes that come with that. It also haunts us with the question of how we cope with retirement or the removal of fame and praise in our lives as we move to the "unmolesting meadows" of our Autumn years.