They shouted for me
when their horses snorted, when restless
hooves traced circles in the earth
and shimmering muscles refused the plough.
My secret was a spongy tissue, pulled bloody
from the mouth of a just-born foal,
scented with rosemary, cinnamon,
a charm to draw the tender giants
to my hands.
They shouted for me
when their horses reared at burning straw
and eyes revolved in stately heads.
I would pull a frog’s wishbone,
tainted by meat, from a pouch,
a new fear to fight the fear of fire,
so I could lead the horses,
like helpless children, to safety.
I swore I would protect
this legacy of whispers
but the tractor came over the fields
like a warning. I was the life-blood
no longer. From pulpits
I was scorned as demon and witch.
Pitchforks drove me from villages and farms.
My gifts were the tools of revenge.
A foul hex above a stable door
so a trusted stallion could be ridden
no more. Then I joined the stampede,
with others of my kind,
to countries far from our trade.
Still I miss them. Shire, Clydesdale, Suffolk.
The searing breath, glistening veins,
steady tread and the pride,
most of all the pride.
Firstly, there is a link I want to share with you to the man’s page. Check this out:
According to good old Wikipedia, a horse whisperer is a person who is a practitioner of something called “Natural Horsemanship,” which is also known as horse whispering. It is is a collective term for a variety of horse training techniques which have seen rapid growth in popularity since the 1980s. I will take their word for it, but it helps us to understand this poem.
The techniques used in this practice differ in their precise ideas but generally share principles of developing a rapport with horses, using communication techniques derived from observation of free-roaming horses and rejecting abusive training methods of the past. Therefore there will be some who accept these people and what they do and there will be people who will reject them out of sight as nothing short of fools.
But, the horse whisperer will tell you [please see the film on http://www.putlocker.com to see what I mean] that this is a way to communicate naturally with a horse. I suppose it would be normal, should I ever get on a horse again, for me to go up to the beast, take the reins and face him [or her] head on. It is the sort of thing I would do, so that I can look the thing in the eyes and say “now, are you and I going to enjoy each other’s company and get on?” It is what I would probably do and have done on the one occasion as a young man, when I got the chance to ride. That horse, called Monty, and I, soon hit it off and were blasting down the sands at Mablethorpe in the UK. I loved that thrill of uniting with the horse as we thundered down the beach at pace. I felt like a race horse jockey, flying down the straight at Doncaster, where I lived at the time. It was fabulous.
So, I read this poem and all sorts of things pop into my mind. The first one is how Forster describes how he was “shouted for” by the owners of the horses in the past, how they wanted his services at some point, how they trusted him to communicate with their horses “when restless hooves traced circles in the earth and shimmering muscles refused the plough.” It is such a beautiful image in the mind of the reader that is being painted here in the mind of the reader and shows how one human being can communicate with an animal from another kingdom. But he had a secret tool for ensuring that the horse was curious enough to come forward to him in the first place, so one asks if this is a true horse whisperer.
He says he used, back in those days, “a spongy tissue, pulled bloody from the mouth of a just-born foal, scented with rosemary, cinnamon,” and how it worked all the time like “a charm to draw the tender giants” towards him and into a relationship of mutual respect. The repeated words of “they shouted for me” is an interesting technique to use as well because he wants to get over the notion that this was not fluke, or some random thing he was able to do once. No, he was able to join his heart and the heart of the beast on whatever occasion he so wished. He says that he would “pull a frog’s wishbone, tainted by meat, from a pouch” and use it to make the horse curious of him, to encourage the horse forward. It is an interesting trick that he is using here and his description is as vivid as it gets in this poem.
This continues as the verses progress, as he led the horses so that they could “fight the fear of fire.” This line is extremely alliterative and made this reader stop in his tracks and react positively. I love moments of enforced alliteration in poems because it allows the reader to trip the light fantastic with the words being said. It is a very good use of language as well by the poet. He says that he could always “lead the horses, like helpless children, to safety.” Again, the use of the simile to compare the horse to a helpless child shows a knowledge of animal husbandry that is second to none. It is no wonder then that he then says that at one point in his life, he swore he “would protect this legacy of whispers,” because he sees such tactics and actions as being important in the natural world.
But as is always the case with these poems about animals and agriculture [this poem does remind me of Digging by Seamus Heaney and some of the classic Ted Hughes poems I have studied over the years] he then spells out the menace of this natural world, which is the man made machine, in this case the “the tractor” that at some point, “came over the fields like a warning.” Again he uses a simile for comparison and the effect in the reader is one that should make them think of the conflict between the natural and the man made world. If it does, then it is a very successful poem. If not, then either the reader does not understand the poem or the wording is not direct enough for them to understand it further.
He then says that because of the changes in attitudes at the time, he sees himself as “the life-blood no longer.” Because things have changed and people do not trust the horse whisperer any more, he feels isolated and alone in a world of machinery and mass production. This part of the poem is clearly a critique of this dichotomy [look it up please] between the natural and the man made. He says that “from pulpits [he] was scorned as demon and witch,” which is an intriguing use of language. The reader has images of a ‘demon’ and a ‘witch’ based on their reading and viewing habits, so to use those words makes the modern day revulsion of his skills all the more powerful. He adds that “pitchforks drove [him] from villages and farms” into isolation and ingratitude from the farming community. His gifts and skills set were no longer needed or even considered as useful.
Imagine that for a moment. You get to the point where you leave school and you have a list of skills learnt, but then when you start work, your employer tells you that everything you have learnt is useless to him. That would be devastating to you and it is the same here with the horse whisperer. He says in defiance that “my gifts were the tools of revenge.” He would place “a foul hex [spell] above a stable door so a trusted stallion could be ridden no more.” If he actually did this then it was as an act of defiance, but I doubt he did so because these skills would not have been in his skill set. I think it s likely that he wanted to put the hex on to make life for the horse owners increasingly impossible, so that they would see the error of their ways.
His life as a horse whisperer had effectively, come to an end, but he remembers the time when those who did this and were rejected by the community would have emigrated to somewhere where their skills were accepted. He says he “joined the stampede, with others of [his] kind, to countries far from [his] trade” to be able to use his skills and the word “stampede,” being a word associated with horses, signifies an act of defiance, of freedom, of a desire to live as he wants to and not as others say. But as he and others did this, he would still have some regrets and that appears in the final verse where we see him saying he actually still misses the “Shire, Clydesdale [and] Suffolk” which are all breeds of magnificent horses; large, bulky, flaring animals who plod in front of beer carts in adverts with their hairy, hoven feet. They are truly a magnificent sight to get close to if you get the chance, with their “searing breath, glistening veins, steady tread” and the one thing that determines they are noticed, their sense of worth, of pride, something the writer [and/or the horse whisperer] feels too, a pride in knowing and being able to appreciate such animals in all occasions.
This poem therefore, with one person talking all the way through is a sad poem but one that shares negative feelings and emotions very well. There is sadness and there is regret, but there is also admiration “and the pride, most of all the pride” that comes with being able to get up close and personal with such a magnificent animal as the horse.