Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Bliss of Solitude: 'The Horses' by Ted Hughes

At the risk of sounding highfalutin, I find that poetry lies latent within me and reveals itself when I least expect it, invariably when I need it the most. For me it's a balm and acts as a pressure valve; quite often as I sit on the M40 raising my middle digit to the inescapable boy racer, a little verse will pop into view and rescue me from the rage of the road. Of course you need to feed to regurgitate, so every morning, around breakfast time, I try and take in a new poem; either that or reacquaint myself with something already seen.
I'm going to share some old and new favourites here (I hope that you'll reciprocate), typing them out will be good for me, might encourage the words to root deep and on occasion "flash upon that inward eye/which is the bliss of solitude" as Wordsworth so memorably put it.
I remember studying this poem by Ted Hughes for 'A' level at school and it must have struck me hard because those years remain as fog. I love horses; my favourite animal (although I quite like elephants and giraffes too). We have a field full of them (horses) behind our cottage; when I watch them from my bedroom window I can feel the world slowing down. This poem always reminds me of two other moments of 'culture'. The first is a pivotal scene in a much underrated George Clooney film 'Michael Clayton', where a chance encounter with horses in a field saves George's life. The other is the spoken outro to this fine song 'Working Alone/A Blessing' by the all too neglected Jackie Leven. He's good he is...

The Horses 

I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird -
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness

Till the moorline - blackening dregs of the brightening grey -
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Huge in the dense grey - ten together -
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

With draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.

I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments

Of a grey silent world.

I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew's tear turned its edge on the silence.

Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted

Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

And the big planets hanging -
I turned

Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,

Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them

The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays -

In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.

TED HUGHES (1930-1998)


  1. I really like the Michael Clayton film. It was criticised on release for been too slow, but I enjoyed the pace; it's not a thriller, it's a drama where the inaction is as important as the whistles and bells. You can see the actors actually thinking which is vital, given their options and choices. George seems to be moving towards this glacial style; if you haven't seen 'The American' it's well worth a look. Again, given the subject matter, things unfold in their own sweet time but for me this adds to the slow burning tension...

  2. I've got the American on my Lovefilm list so hopefully get tosee it soon