by Dorothy Wellesley
"Newmarket or St. Leger" . . .
Who, in the garden pony carrying skeps
Of grass or fallen leaves, his knees gone slack,
Round belly, hollow back,
Sees the Mongolian Tarpan of the steppes?
Or, in the Shire, with plaits and feathered feet,
The war-horse like the wind the Tartar knew?
Or in the Suffolk Punch spells out anew
The wild grey asses fleet
With stripe from head to tail, and moderate ears?
In cross sea-donkeys, sheltering as storm gathers,
The mountain zebra maned upon the withers,
With round enormous ears?
Or, in a thoroughbred in stable garb
Of crested rug, ranged orderly, will mark
The wistful eyelashes so long and dark,
And call to mind the old blood of the Barb?
And that slim island on whose bare campaigns
Galloped with flying manes
For a King's pleasure, churning surf and scud,
A white Arabian stud?
That stallion, teazer to Hobgoblin, free
And foaled upon a plain of Barbary:
Godolphin Barb, who dragged a cart for hire
In Paris, but became a famous sire,
Covering all lovely mares. And she who threw
Rataplan to the Baron, loveliest shrew;
King Charles' royal-mares. The Dodsworth Dam;
And the descendants: Yellow Turk, King Tom;
And Lath out of Roxana, famous foal;
Careless; Eclipse, unbeaten in the race,
With white blaze on his face;
Prunella who was dam to Parasol.
Blood Arab, pony, pedigree, no name,
All horses are the same:
The Shetland stallion stunted by the damp,
Yet filled with self-importance, stout and small;
The Cleveland slow and tall;
New Forests that may ramp
Their lives out, being branded, breeding free
When bluebells turn the Forest to a sea,
When mares with foal at foot flee down the glades,
Sheltering in bramble coverts
From mobs of corn-fed lovers;
Or, at the acorn-harvest, in stockades,
A round-up being afoot, will stand at bay,
Or, making for the heather clearings, splay
Wide-spread towards the bogs by gorse and whin,
Roped as they flounder in
But hunters as day fails
Will take the short-cut home across the fields;
With slackened rein will stoop through darkening wealds,
With creaking leathers skirt the swedes and kales.
Tatient, adventuring still,
A horse's ears bob on the distant hill,
He starts to hear
A pheasant chuck or whirr, having the fear
In him of ages filled with war and raid,
Remembering adventures of his kin
With giant winged worms that coiled round mountain bases,
And Nordic tales of young gods riding races
Up courses of the rainbow. Here within
The depth of Hampshire hedges, does he dream
How Athens woke to hear above her roofs
The welkin flash and thunder to the hoofs
Of dawn's tremendous team?
Last updated September 13, 2017