A poem, which contains a strong theme, is ‘The Horses’ by Edwin Muir. The poem is about the aftermath of a war in which all technology and means of communication have failed the survivors. This forces everyone to resort to a more old-fashioned and basic way of life. This is brought about by the arrival of the horses. The main theme of this poem focuses on both failed and successful references to communication and technology.
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Edwin Muir composed ‘The Horses’ after he had survived both world wars, where he had lost his family within a short space of time. During the Second World War there was an atomic disaster in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is situated in Japan, this brought the issue of nuclear war and development into the public. Muir believed that there would be another world war, which would bring about the end of the world. The advancement in technology which helped make the atomic bomb a reality almost certainly had a profound effect upon Muir’s work and its effect on the poem ‘The Horses’. The theme of communication and technology would have been very relevant topic at the time of the poems composition and one, which is still important in today’s society.
In Muir’s poem ‘The Horses’ he conveys the theme of communication through effective word choice. At the beginning of the poem man is described as having made a “covenant with silence”, the silence represents a lack of sound or noise which then demonstrates a lack of communication. The word covenant literally means an agreement, this means that man has made his agreement to remain silent implying they will not return to the pasts communication methods. This conveys the theme of communication, in particular the loss of communication, as man is silent and refusing to communicate via technology of the old world that they hold accountable for the war.
The theme of communication is continued in the poem through Muir’s reference to the silent radios. Although these radios are silent, Muir makes a point of describing them as “turned on” suggesting that although the radios are making no sound the speaker of the poem still feels hope that the failed communication they are experiencing will only be temporary. This conveys the theme of communication and technology, as although technology has failed they are still hopeful it will result in new communication.
Muir furthermore conveys the theme of communication within ‘The Horses’ as he uses the word “twelvemonth”, he has chosen to use a word that has an archaic style and one we would not use in modern day English. The world “twelvemonth” is another way of seeing a year and its use suggests to us that the speaker of the poem wants to return to a more simple way of life; a way of life when this world would have been used commonly. This then strengthens the theme of communication as it highlights to the reader that the speaker has a desire to an old way of life and re-connect and communicate with the land and with God.
The imagery used in this poem helps to paint a very vivid picture of the poem and helps enforce our understanding of the poem’s central themes. The radios are described as being “dumb”. Muir uses personification here to highlight just how important and central technology has become in the speaker’s life, that the radios are considered almost human. The failure in technology has resulted in a breakdown of communication as the radios have failed there is no communication. This conveys the theme of communication very, clearly as we see that there is a lack of technology which at this point results in a lack of communication.
Imagery in this poem not only conveys how the technology has hailed but also how the speaker feels towards it. Machinery is described in dark terms, “The tractors lie about our fields; ay evening/ they look like dank sea monsters couched and waiting.” A simile is used here to compare the tractors to sea monsters. The tractor is the symbol of modern technology and with this information we can say this suggests people are now fearful of the technology, which has brought about the war and that it is alien to them. This helps to convey the theme of communication and technology well as we clearly understand from this that man had turned his back on modern technology and no longer sees it as a positive thing but rather as the source of their concerns.
The structure of ‘The Horses’ is key in identifying the main theme of communication and technology within the poem. The poem is written in blank free verse, which means it has no set rhyme or rhythm scheme. Also, it does no follow the conventional stanza structure instead reading as one lengthy text. Although it is not split into stanzas the poem can still be read in two parts. The first section focuses on the failure of technology, which evidently results in a breakdown of communication. “We listened to our breathing” suggests that the speaker is surrounded by silence as there is no sound, indicating a loss of communication. The coming of the horses signifies the second part of the poem;
“Late in the summer the strange horses came. / We heard the distant tapping on the road/ a deepening drumming; it stopped went on again/ And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.”
The effective use of onomatopoeia here breaks the silence that was dominant throughout the first section of the poem. The coming of the horses signifies a rebirth in communication but not one dependant upon technology but rather a return to a simple way of life.
The tone of the poem clearly identifies the theme of communication and technology in this poem. Similar to the structure of the poem, the tone changes throughout. In the beginning of the poem the tone is one of fear and horror as illustrated by reference to such phrases like “were afraid” and “Dead bodies piled”. In contrast, the tone in the second part of the poem is more of excitement and relief. The Horses are described as “fabulous steeds” which implies that when the speaker first gazes upon them he finds them awe inspiring as they are nor merely horses but steeds. This also suggest that hey are now at ease with the life they have and that the fear which is present in the opening piece of the poem in no longer there. The tone relates clearly to the theme of communication as the coming of the horses has established a new form of communication that does not depend on technology. At the beginning the lack of communication and technology makes the speaker fearful but as a new from of communication is established through the coming of the horses he finds contentment.
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In conclusion, the central theme of communication and technology is clearly evident in the techniques that the poet Muir has deployed. The language used helps to convey the loss of communication and the rebirth that is brought by the coming of the horses. The imagery used, particularly that which describes the technology, helps to paint a vivid picture in our minds. It is only when man turns his back on modern technology a new communication is developed which is based on a simple way of living.
By Lorne McNiven
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