The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This lyric poem, written in formal verse, presents a meditation that is triggered by a pastoral scene of two horses “at grass.” The speaker first observes the horses as an unspecified “them” whose identity must be pieced together, since they are hardly noticeable against the landscape of “cold shade” in which they are comfortably at grass. They “shelter” in it and are noticeable only when the wind brushes across their tails and manes. They are not outstanding but anonymous, simple horses pasturing peacefully.

So far the speaker has only pointed out what an uninformed passerby might notice, but he knows something more about these horses: They have had their moments of fame. The reader learns that fifteen years ago they were at the center of attention at the races, surrounded by excited concern, trophies, crowds, and the colors of the “silk” worn by the jockeys. There was much at stake, as evidenced by “numbers,” “distances,” and “stop-press columns on the street.”

This recollection leads the speaker to wonder (in a phrase with echoes from William Shakespeare), “Do memories plague their ears like flies?” That is, do memories of busier, more glorious and exciting days nag at them and stir regret? The speaker recognizes in the simple shaking of the horses’ heads that regret and nostalgia are human experiences and that, on the contrary, the horses seem content to be where they are. The fact that their glory...

(The entire section is 401 words.)