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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 461

Joy Harjo's "She Had Some Horses" is the first poem in a group of five poems connected under this title.

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"She Had Some Horses" is characterized by its repetition, the anaphora which lends the poem its cohesion. Harjo repeats the titular line, without its "some," over and over again, enumerating the many different things which these horses metaphorically were to her. The horses are described as very different—some are "maps drawn of blood," others are connected to sky elements, others are brittle and made of clay, while still others are part of the earth itself. Some are actually "fur and teeth," like real horses.

The line, "She had some horses" is, itself, repeated as a refrain between each stanza, as if in emphasis. The poet seems to be saying: look, I have presented evidence to support my statement. The content of the stanza describes these horses. However, the deeper question the reader must answer is whether there are any "real" horses at all—the horses described in the poem do not seem to behave as horses do. Some of them are built out of earthly elements. Others seem to have human characteristics, such as those who "laughed" or even "licked razor blades." The reader's understanding of what these horses might metaphorically represent is increased as the poem goes on.

Some of the horses are "shy," while some like to dance at night under the stars. Some of the horses are afraid, some lie, and some "spit at male queens" who force them to feel shame about themselves. It becomes clearer and clearer that the horses are representations of people, some of whom want to define themselves as "horses"—what the world sees them as—and some of whom reject this name, or any name. Some of the horses are afraid and some fear they will be destroyed, while others are waiting for "resurrection." Towards the end of the poem, its spirituality comes into full view: some of the horses "got down on their knees for any saviour," while others have tried to save the "she" of the poem, climbing into her bed at night and praying.

At the end of the poem, the speaker states that the protagonist had some horses she loved and some she hated, but that these "were the same horses."

It is difficult to say specifically what the horses represent. It is clear that there is a feminine association with them; they represent women crammed into boxes that do not fit them. In stating that the loved and hated horses are the same horses, the poet seems to be suggesting that there are things about ourselves, and about others, which we can both love and hate at the same time; our complexity is what defines us.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561

“She Had Some Horses,” Harjo’s most frequently anthologized work, is the title poem from the 1983 collection of the same name. In it, she achieves a beautiful, chantlike quality by repeating the three words “She had horses” at the beginning of each line. She also uses the phrase “she had some horses” as a one-line refrain following each stanza. These poetic techniques not only unify the poem but also add emotional impact to its theme, a celebration of human nature in all of its aspects. The many characteristics attributed to the horses represent the many complicated facets of the human spirit.

In the first stanza, the horses are described as things that can be broken, ephemeral things that are hard to pin down: “bodies of sand,” “splintered red cliff,” and “skins of ocean water.” These are natural elements that can be damaged but will reemerge in some form. This is the cycle of nature, and the human spirit, too, follows this pattern.

In the next section, Harjo juxtaposes these images to human characteristics that are aggressive, protruding, and sharp: “horses with...

(The entire section contains 1022 words.)

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