* Edwin Muir was born on the remote Orkney Islands to the north of Scotland in 1887. * His father was a tenant farmer but he lost his land when Muir was fourteen. * Muir then moved with his family to Glasgow in 1901, where he remained for 18 years. The family lived in a poor part of the city. * During the early 1920s Muir travelled in Europe.
* Muir wrote poetry and plays and earned his living as an editor, translator and literary critic. * He poetry is personal and often dreamlike.
* The poem ‘The Horses’ describes a future way of life that will be like the simple farming life of the past. * This way of life will be like how it used to be in the Garden of Eden. There will be no industry or technology. Man will once again be close to nature and animals. * The roots of this poem lie in Muir’s experience of life. * His life as a boy on a remote island was sheltered compared to the disorder and uproar of life in Glasgow. * In Glasgow first his father, then his two brothers, and then his mother died in the space of a few years. * His life as a young man in Glasgow was a depressing experience for him, involving a succession of unpleasant jobs. * Thus he began to imagine and long for a more innocent way of life, close to the earth like in his childhood. * The horror of twentieth century world wars also influenced the poem. * Like many writers of the twentieth century Muir thought a future war might wipe out the world as we know it. * The central idea in the poem is that people ought to live a life of hard work close to the earth. * The ideas in the poem are somewhat like the strict ideas of Calvin. Calvinism is a religion that proposes a life of strict innocence based on hard work, closeness to the soil and avoidance of pleasure. * Calvin’s ideas were central to the Presbytarian religion that Muir grew up in. * In this religion only a small portion of people would get in to heaven after God angrily destroys the world. * Muir seems to think the good people are those who live close to the earth. * Muir creates a speaker or narrator from the future who describes recent history. The descriptions of events at sea suggest he is on an island, similar to where Muir grew up. * The poem is futuristic. The speaker is like a survivor describing the new, recovered earth after a Third World War. * It is a dream-like poem that contains farming imagery straight from the poet’s childhood on the farm in the Orkney Islands. * The poem refers to mysterious horses that come to help humans rebuild their life. * These horses represent a new world.
* At the end of the bible, in the Book of Revelations, four horses were a signal for the end of the world. * In this poem, Muir imagines one world has ended and a new one has begun. * The horses that ended the world in the bible, return to help build the new world, a world close to nature.
* The speaker or narrator refers to a seven-day war and to the arrival of the magical horses. They are like horses from mythology. * The speaker says the community had decided to remain silent about the past and move on. * He describes the first few days of the war when they lived in shock and fear. They were afraid of the sound of their own breathing. * The speaker mentions a few details of the war.
* Their radios stopped working on the second day.
* A warship full of dead bodies passed northwards on the third day. * On the sixth day an airplane fell into the sea.
* After the war radios everywhere remained silent
* Soon it became clear people never again wanted to hear the radios. * If the radios ever start to broadcast again people will ignore them because they represent the bad old days of war that killed children instantly. * The survivors do not want to go back to a world where entire nations were wiped out in one stroke. *...