[I’ve heard Ekphrasis* described as one of the ugliest words in the English language. In writing this poem, I would like to try and make it ironic]
In this, another war poem, at the same time I both celebrate and mourn the destiny of millions of horses in the front lines on World War 1. Here, I may talk about a strong stallion with great heritage from the same lines as purebred battle horses that served knights of old before war became so mechanised. The first world war was the turning point between the old and new ages of war, in which the military cavalry masters of the old order clashed with the new; and the result was an unmitigated armageddon, an unprecedented tragedy of slaughter in blood and mud … there is no undue irony in this great stallion’s story, insofar as its consequences, though its life is spared, its mental health is not, like so many human members of the armed forces who serve on or near to the front lines, who physically survive but who are consumed, through trauma, by some degree of mental illness.
Her gentle hand enwrapped his nose
and pulled it to her face.
Behind his nostril, where there is
the very softest place,
she kissed him tenderly and smelt
the scent of peerless blood
that coursed his veins and caused his mane
to tremble with a power
that came from generations of
This kind of power was visible,
it rippled like a lake
that caught a sudden gust of wind,
and shimmered, glistening.
He’d knightly strength for greater things
and so it proved to be.
A friend of friends, an officer,
had visited to see
and beamed at his magnificence
there was no doubt for him
that this beast was set to ride
for glorious history…
…until his inglorious return,
a sight that broke her heart.
His eyes had depth of understanding
she knew too well. Their look,
injected as they were with fear,
but not the normal kind
– the kind that came from healthy gallops
over his favourite fell.
No. This fear, its source was made …
(what she saw then choked her eyes)
… made from inner visions of
an unspeakable kind of hell;
mud-filled craters’ stench of death,
through endless shock of shell, but
unshakeable loyalty to his charge
despite his spirit’s knell.
In time the empty frame that stood
motionless in the field,
with timeless care she tended him,
though never fully healed
the scars that stiffened weary spirit
that caused him so much pain,
but filled with love and trust once more
the noble steed regained
a hint of what he used to feel:
excitement for the day,
security in his domain,
where once he held full sway;
desire that burned in his dark eyes
to lead her in his way
back to the stable where he’d sink
his nose in soft sweet hay.
– John Anstie
© 2012,2013 introduction and poem, John Anstie, All rights reserved
Illustration ~ Lonely by SylwiaS Digital Art / Photomanipulation / Surreal©2009-2013 SylwiaS