The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Horseshoe Finder” is an ode patterned, to a degree, after Pindar, as attested by its subtitle, “A Pindaric Fragment.” Its ninety-seven lines compose nine stanzas of various length. It is the longest poem written by Osip Mandelstam; it is also one of the very few poems he wrote in unrhymed free verse.

The poem opens with a choruslike description of a pine forest. The observers look at the forest primarily from a utilitarian point of view, wondering how many ships could be built from these tall trees and how the trees 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.

In stanza 2, the point of view is again that of the “we” of the chorus. They empathize 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. They envisage, now in retrospect, that the boards were once tall trees standing on a mountain ridge. Having completed the introduction, the poet is ready to “tell his story,” but he is uncertain at which point to begin. The perspective shifts to a more modern time, in which everything “cracks and rocks” and the ships are replaced by two-wheeled carts breaking themselves to pieces at a racetrack.

In the next stanza, the poet hails the...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Horseshoe Finder” is an ode to the nameless horseshoe finder—and to Mandelstam’s poetry. It was written at a time when Mandelstam thought that his poetry had become a fossil itself.

Connections with Pindar are obvious. Among the Pindaric features is, for example, a tendency to leap from one subject to another without transition. The myths are presented only in their essentials, while the rest is left for the reader to supply. The subject of a horse is also very Pindaric, as is the elegiac mood. Mandelstam’s own poetic power, though, makes the poem distinctly his own.

As in most of his poems, Mandelstam relies here on images and metaphors as his strongest poetic devices. The image of stately pine trees, “free to the very top from their shaggy burden,” adds beauty to their usefulness as material for ships. The poet returns to this image to point out once again that they are living beings as they moan under the saltless downpour, clamoring for a pinch of salt—that is, flavor. When describing the transformation of the elements, the poet says that “the air is kneaded until thick as earth.” Perhaps the most beautiful image is that of a dying horse; the sharp arch of the neck still preserves the memory of a race, but the legs are now gone.

The most important metaphor is that of a ship, which has been used often in literature, both classical and modern, to represent poetry, among other things. When coupled with...

(The entire section is 457 words.)