The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Horse Show at Midnight,” by Henry Taylor, is part dream, part fantasy, and part wish fulfillment. This 104-line poem relates the same story from two different points of view; part 1 relates the story from the perspective of the horse rider, and part 2 is told from the horse’s point of view. From the opening lines to the eerie conclusion there is an air of the otherworldly, of a time and place not fixed nor even fixable. This is fable and fairy tale narrated by the id.

Set in a horse-show ring at the mystical hour of midnight, a rider summons sleeping horses from the stables with thought-commands and instructs them to perform beyond their waking abilities. As judge he commands them; then, transformed, he is also the rider. The horseman mounts the horse and strains to become one with it. They take “the fences one by one/ Not touching the poles or the ground.” Horse and rider achieve a kind of perfection that the poem suggests is not possible in the world of the everyday. It takes a bit of the “willing suspension of disbelief” to enter the poem’s altered state of consciousness, but once inside it is disorientingly fascinating

When the ride ends, the horse disappears, leaving the rider “Left behind by one horse that [he] love[s].” Almost desperately the rider seeks the horse, but it is gone. The rider sinks to his knees “Kneeling in nothing but bones.” Horse flesh, and worse, spirit, have departed. The perfection...

(The entire section is 595 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “The Horse Show at Midnight” Taylor demonstrates his command of meter, his ability to manipulate and complement meter with language, and his ability to distort vision for added visceral and emotional impact. The most obvious device in the poem is the powerful yet ponderous anapestic trimeter lines. From the outset, the poem refuses to advance more quickly than a canter, it never gallops as the horses do around the ring. It is not the nature of anapests to move quickly. The meter is self-regulating; even as it describes in metrical precision the sound of hooves striking the dirt of the ring it also insists that the lines be read slowly, every metrical foot being absorbed by the reader. Anapests are often associated with dirges and other serious forms. They can easily turn on a poet and work against a mood or an effect. That does not happen here, the anapests are stolid and advance the story at its own dreamlike and deliberate pace. By the end, it is hard to imagine the poem being said in any other meter; subject, setting, and rhythm all work to support each other, and all are stronger because of the others.

With assistance from trochaic and iambic substitutions, and at times with catalexis, the poem moves in a stately advance, accumulating its detail from adverbs that are often coupled for greater impact: “They march/ Around the ring, proudly, like men./ I stand on my toes and speak softly—/ They all start to gallop at once/ Noiselessly, weightlessly.” Like the meter, the adverbs contribute to the fairy tale, otherworldly air of the poem. It is unhurried and floating in time. A poet in a hurry to offer narrative or lyric does not slow down for the intricacies of adverbs or the slow but steady beat of anapests.

Adverbs here also provide something else that supports the dream quality of the poem. They tend to distort, very slightly, the reader’s expectations, sometimes bringing together seemingly conflicting notions. Like the moonlight by which the poem is lit, which distorts even as it enlightens, the adverbs move from the expected to the unexpected. In the end, the reader may feel as if he or she has just woken from a dream, or a pair of dreams, and may not be completely surprised by the conflicting sad-glad emotions.