The Horses by Edwin Muir Essay

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‘The Horses’, by Edwin Muir, is a poem which forced me to think about the unthinkable – the annihilation of humankind as a result of a nuclear war. Paradoxically, however, Muir seems to me to take an optimistic view of such an event. In my essay I intend to give a synopsis of the poem and discuss some of the techniques that Muir employs to get his message across. I will discuss his use of Biblical language and imagery, the structure of the poem, his rhythm and rhyme and his use of symbolism.

Muir imagines a world brought to an abrupt end by a nuclear war. The poem was written in the 1950s during the period known as ‘The Cold War’. This was a period of our history when people had real
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The first thing I noticed about the poem was the writer’s use of Biblical language and allusion. The mention of the “seven days war” is a clear reminder of the creation of the world and the expression “barely a twelvemonth” is archaic language resonant of the Bible. In addition, there are references to “covenant” and to “Eden” – all with clear biblical association. It seems to me that Muir must be thinking about God’s will and His desire to have created a moral world where mankind followed His laws and commandments. Clearly, in destroying itself, mankind has brought about the Apocalypse promised to St John on the Isle of Patmos and revealed in the New Testament. On the subject of optimism, however, we must surely see the arrival of the horses as a message from God that He is prepared to give us a second chance.

The poem has an interesting structure. It divides into two long stanzas. In the first stanza Muir describes the dreadful state of the world after the nuclear war, partly by the shock we receive in the first two lines, partly by the skilfully chosen details, and partly by the people’s loathing of our present civilisation. Then, to introduce the second part, comes the sudden statement:-
“And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came,”
And there is reawakening hope that civilisation will return.
“Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.”

Another attractive feature of Muir’s style is the rhyme and rhythm he employs in
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