Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419

“The art which conceals art” is a phrase that has often been used to indicate the artist’s task. Ideally, a poet (or any other artist) wants the created work to seem natural and inevitable rather than artificial and labored. On one level, that is the concern of “The Flying Change.” The horse’s art is its running, and, as the impersonal voice of part 1 points out, when it successfully carries a rider, it moves as if it were unburdened. (It is notable that in the course of concealing his art, Taylor has created the bookish tone of that discussion, just as he created the three metered stanzas which follow it.) Like the horse that must appear free while performing a task, so the poet’s task is to manage carefully ordered steps without appearing to carry a burden. The speaker of part 2 suggests that this feat is possible and that it may even allow the artist moments when he seems completely free of earth-bound concerns, however illusory that freedom, like the horse’s freedom, may be.

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On another level, the poem seems to address the more general tension between the speaker’s desire for freedom and the constraints of time and age and obligation. Like the horse, the speaker has taught himself to cease the practice of skills he still has, skills he says he must outlive, as if age has brought him to the necessity of moving beyond the skills of his earlier years. This is a recognition that many people come to—that growth (which suggests maturity and adulthood) may require one to abandon some of the colt’s pleasures in freedom. Yet the poem suggests that, like a well-schooled horse, one can somehow retain the memory of what free movement was like.

Because it is time which brings one to these contradictions, time is a significant issue in the second section. The act of cupping water in his hands reminds the speaker that advancing age will make his hands no better than a sieve for holding water in this very natural way. In fact, the whole world seems to be moving in a “mindless plunge” as it races through time. There is no stopping this process—except, the poem suggests, that the art of the flying change, the moment in which time seems to be held in suspension, may allow one to experience for a moment the brilliant sensation being free of the pull of earth and time, an illusion created by the flying change.

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