The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Winter Horses” is a poem in four short sections of thirteen, eleven, nine, and eight lines, respectively. The first and last sections’ lines are left-justified, whereas the middle sections’ lines are scattered on the page. The poem’s title provides a useful index to the poem as a whole: “Winter Horses” juxtaposes the idea of winter (stillness) and the idea of horses (motion). Readers can fruitfully consider the poem a meditation on the results of this juxtaposition. Seeming paradoxes are linked through logical associations which lead them to be viewed as complementary ideas instead of contradictory ones.

The first section catalogs the effects of winter on the land and the people. The first line, “placed two sticks upon a dazzling plate,” suggests the movement of the poem: How will readers reconceive the ordinary (the “two sticks”) on the “dazzling plate” of winter? Abruptly the poem moves from the landscape to people, invoking wars, memory, hearsay, and treachery in only two lines; apparently the emotional landscape of winter is neither still nor dazzling but turbulent and pained. The second stanza implies that readers remember the “tawnysplendor” of summer in glorious winter sunsets, despite the freeze that “shut[s] the moat.”

The next two sections, with their lines shifting on the page, work even more associatively. The conflict between winter (bearing cold stillness) and horses (living motion) persists but...

(The entire section is 567 words.)