The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses” consists of eight stanzas punctuated by a common refrain with a coda at the end of the work. The poem, written in the form of an American Indian chant, explores a woman’s struggle to shape her identity as a modern Native American living in the alien environment of Euro-American culture. The mythic image of the horse, repeated at the beginning of and between every stanza, is juxtaposed with paradoxical images and events from the speaker’s life in twentieth century America. These juxtapositions not only sharply define the psychological, spiritual, and cultural conflicts at war in the woman’s conscious and subconscious minds, but also build toward the speaker’s self-recognition. At the end of the poem, the speaker achieves psychological and spiritual unity by accepting the contradictory sides of her psyche, thereby giving birth to a new and complete being.

The speaker’s search for wholeness is rooted in the physical world of contemporary life as well as in the mystical realm of Native American myth and legend. The first line of the poem, “She had some horses,” calls upon one of the most powerful and enduring symbols in Native American culture. Every line in the succeeding stanzas begins with, “She had horses . . .,” reinforcing the speaker’s American Indian identity. The poem explores all facets of the woman’s existence, from the elements that make up her physical being to the components of her...

(The entire section is 566 words.)