The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Horses” is a thirty-eight-line poem in free verse, written mostly in two-line stanzas. Like many of Ted Hughes’s poems, it reflects his fascination with nature, especially animals—their appearance and behavior, their own peculiar places in the world. The poem begins with the narrator in a bleak state of mind. Taking a walk in the dark before dawn could be invigorating, but he perceives “Evil air, a frost-making stillness,” and his breath leaves “tortuous statues in the iron light.” In these first few lines, Hughes paints a stark, dreamlike picture in black and gray.

Horses, a familiar enough sight during the day, become strange when the narrator sees ten of them in the gathering dawn. They do not react when he passes by. They seem to be objects, not living beings, chiseled out of a frigid landscape: “Grey silent fragments/ Of a grey silent world.” The narrator, who listens “in emptiness on the moor-ridge,” appears emotionally depleted. His spiritual emptiness leaves him vulnerable to the morning breaking dramatically around him. He hears a bird (a curlew) cry out in the stillness. He sees the sun light up the landscape in orange and red. The single sound and the vibrant colors expose a new world—complete with water and distant planets in the sky—lurking immediately below the winter night’s seemingly impenetrable surface.

In this poem, the sun does not rise; it erupts: “Silently, and splitting to its core...

(The entire section is 485 words.)