Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

Colum was a very refined poet who relied on suggestive images and abstract ideas to help his readers appreciate the intense “desire” of these two lovers. In this poem, they do very little. The male lover thinks about his beloved while she brings him “lighted coals” and a branding “tool.” The most erotically charged poems are often not pornographic poems that depict the sexual act itself but rather those that convey to the reader in an understated and elegant style sexual desire itself. Unless the physical act of love manifests mutual love, respect, and equality, love is debased and is nothing more than a form of physical conquest. The very scene in this short poem strongly suggests that the woman shares with her beloved not just the physical pleasures of love but also the mundane responsibilities a farming couple must share.

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She heated the coals and then brought them in a pot to him with the appropriate branding tool. He could not have held the foals had she not done this preliminary work. They had to cooperate so that their foals could be properly branded and thus protected from theft. By their very cooperation they are able to be together almost all the time. This enables their mutual “desire” to increase in intensity because they are always “looking” at each other, whether they are in bed or working in their barn or on their farm.

Sexual desire is obviously not something that can be described with mere words. A poet must suggest its force to readers through thoughts or actions. Both farmers in this poem dutifully accomplish the necessary daily tasks on their farm, even unpleasant ones, such as branding foals, but their thoughts are always elsewhere. Physical objects such as “lighted coals,” branding “tools,” “trees, ” and “grass” constantly remind them of their mutual desire, but the desire itself is more meaningful and universal than the physical act of love. All readers understand the emotional and psychological reality of sexual desire, but the actual physical manifestation of this desire depends on personal preferences and the specific circumstances in which the lovers find themselves. If they are in the company of others, they can express their desire by flirting or holding hands, but if they are alone, they can leave more flight to their imagination and creativity. “Branding the Foals” is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the complexity of the rich psychological and emotional passion that Colum refers to as mutual “desire.”

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