In Horses Edwin Muir is trying to catch the power and majesty of horses he saw in his childhood. Fort this he uses images which are from his contemporary life. Thus what is unfamiliar and old is seen in terms of what is new and familiar.
At the end of the poem, we are told that what he has been describing was a vision.
Ah, now it fades! It fades! and I must pine
Again for the dread country crystalline,
These lines remind of what Shelley said about poets;
We look before and after and pine for what is not
It is the poet’s interest in history that finds its expression throughout the poem. The image of horses the poet saw in his childhood comes again to him in his adulthood. He sees a couple of horses attached to a steady plough. Now in his adulthood they seem terrible and strange to him.
He tries to recall an old scene from his childhood. He remembers having seen these horses moving their hoofs up and down. He compares them to pistons with which he is more familiar now. He remembers in great detail how the hoofs were seen treading down the stubbles in the field while they moved about like happy monsters, turning the field brown.
He describes in detail how the horses ploughed the land and how they glowed in the sun while the furrow looked like a snake behind them. They were not tired even by the evening when the returned home. They were warm and glowing with mysterious fire that heated up their bodies.
The poet goes on to describe the horse as if they are some strange monsters. He talks about their dark eyes and how they gleamed with hellish fire. The wind is nothing but their manes leaping up with ire and rage. It is invisible.
The poem is remarkable mainly for the strong images and also for the strong abstract words. The basic element of fire appears in different forms throughout the poem. We come across several words like ‘blackening’ ‘sun’ ‘light’ ‘dusk’ ‘warm’ ‘glowing’ ‘smouldering’ ‘night’ ‘apocalyptic’ ‘invisible’ ‘blind’ which all have some connection with fire or light. Thus a subtle reference to hell and monsters permeates the poem giving it a gothic beauty and strength. The horses look like horses no more but as some magical creatures from another world. Thus even when the poet is being nostalgic about his childhood, he paints a dark and sinister picture of what he experienced as a child. He admits that the
…black field and the still-standing tree
Were bright and fearful presence to me.