Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Names of Horses” evokes a way of life which had nearly vanished by the 1970’s, when the poem was written, painting an attractive picture of the traditional New England farm powered by mighty horses. Hall makes it clear that farm life was not easy. From the very first line, readers see the effort the horse must put into its work. Eventually, it becomes “old and lame” and finds it painful even to bend and graze. One fall then, when most of the year’s work is done, the farmer kills and buries the horse. The contribution the horse makes to farm life continues beyond its death, however. Its remains will help build the soil and contribute to new life. Thus the horse has a kind of immortality, rather like the one Walt Whitman evokes in “Leaves of Grass” (1855-1892). In this respect, “Names of Horses” can be read as a conventional celebration of the continuity of life, not just for the horse but also for the farmer.

However, a closer reading suggests that one should not be too quick to accept that interpretation. Something is missing from the poem as it moves toward its flat but powerful ending. There is no colt to take the place of the last horse to be shot; in fact, the only young things in sight are those young pines sprouting in the pasture.

When the horses are finally named, readers may well see some significance in the order in which their names are presented. Roger and Nellie could as well be the names of children born on...

(The entire section is 518 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

"Names of Horses" has been called an animal elegy. The elegy typically centers upon the death of a person. But Hall's...

(The entire section is 864 words.)