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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475

“The Horseshoe Finder” opens with a choruslike description of a pine forest with numerous tall trees. The chorus looks at the forest, wondering how many ships could be built from these trees and how the ships would fare in storms. The seafarer, “in his thirst for space” and eagerness to go to sea, is also trying to figure out how a ship can be built, comparing the raggedness of the sea to the firmness of the earth.

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The point of view of the chorus is maintained in stanza 2. The chorus empathizes with the planks and boards of the ship built long ago, not by the peaceful carpenter of Bethlehem but by another one, the father of wanderings and friend of seafarers, presumably Odysseus. The chorus envisages, now in retrospect, that the boards were once tall trees standing on a mountain ridge. After the introduction, the poet is ready to “tell the story,” but he is uncertain where to begin. The scene shifts to a more modern time, in which everything “cracks and rocks” and the ships are replaced by two-wheeled vehicles breaking themselves to pieces at a racetrack.

In stanza 3, the poet hails the maker of a song, not an anonymous maker but the one who put his name to his or her songs, thus assuring its long life and gaining the laurels reserved for heroes of antiquity. Stanza 5 presents the poet’s musing about the transformation of the air into water, of water into crystal, and finally of crystal into earth, tracing the process throughout history. Unexpectedly, after being concerned with the course of history and the passage of time, in stanza 6 the poet makes a statement that divides the poem in half: “The fragile reckoning of the years of our age is nearing its end.” Expressing gratitude for all that has transpired in the past, the poet, switching to the first person, complains of confusion. The poet has lost count; what was a glorious era now rings hollow. Even though the sound is still ringing, the stallion lies in the dust, unable to run anymore.

At the end, the poet is resigned to fate. The poet has nothing more to say, even though his lips still keep the shape of the last word. Yet not everything is hopeless. Someone finds a horseshoe of the stallion long gone, polishes it, and puts it over the door. Even though time and the era have cut the poet like a coin, so that “there’s not even enough of me left for me,” the final prognosis is that there will still be horseshoes and coins to be found by later generations. Thus, the metaphor of the horseshoe stands for the glory that has been lost and the value that has been recovered, making this poem, in the last analysis, one of Mandelstam’s more optimistic ones.

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Themes