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.)