Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As a member of an oppressed minority that has been victimized and nearly destroyed, Harjo is concerned with personal, cultural, and spiritual survival. One of the ways a culture can survive is through storytelling. Commenting on her own calling as a poet and storyteller, Harjo remarked: “In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have a voice, because I have to: it is my survival.” “She Had Some Horses” is somewhat autobiographical and reflects Harjo’s own struggle to survive as a mixed-blood woman in a hostile society. The poem gives a voiceless woman the opportunity to tell her story and, by doing so, make her mark in the world as a person of significance and worth.

The use of memory is another way Native Americans can ensure their survival. Tales of people past and present, ties to ancestral lands, family and tribal histories, and myths provide a deep well of cultural memories from which present and future generations can draw strength to combat racial prejudice and oppression. In her poem, Harjo seamlessly fuses American Indian myths with the speaker’s experiences in contemporary American life. The resulting dialogue between the two distinctive worldviews is strained and violent. Yet there is hope. Memory brings perspective, and perspective helps each new generation see old truths in new ways. The woman in “She Had Some Horses” is eventually able to harness the energy of a new vision brought about by her reliance on the archetypes that have lived in the collective mind of her tribe for thousands of years.

Although Native American writers such as Harjo tend to focus on the themes of memory, survival, and tradition, these concepts are universal. For generations, immigrant and minority groups have fought to keep their traditions and myths alive in order to preserve their identity as individuals and as a people. Ultimately, “She Had Some Horses” takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, helping them to know themselves better and to understand their place and purpose within creation.