‘Hay for the Horses’ was published in Gary Snyder’s first collection of poetry, Riprap (1959). In this collection, Snyder shares his experiences as a forest lookout. This poem from the collection is specifically about the activities of a group of men who looked after horses. Some of them brought hays from a long distance. Others stored them in an orderly fashion in the barn. After the work was done, they had lunch together, sharing stories of their past.
Explore Hay for the Horses
‘Hay for the Horses’ by Gary Snyder describes a day’s activities of a group of men who took care of horses.
This piece begins with reference to the person who brought hay. He drove half the night. He reached the farm with his truckload of hay at eight in the morning. Readers can find the narrator joining others to stack up the bales on redwood rafters in the next step. After the work was done, the workers had lunch together. The old, sixty-eight-year-old man shared how he had been working since the age of seventeen. He would not have thought that he would be doing this work all his life.
You can read the full poem here.
He had driven half the night
behind the barn.
In the first stanza of ‘Hay for the Horses,’ the speaker talks about the person who brings hay to the farm. The description is thrilling. It takes a lot of effort to bring hay from a distance. For instance, the worker drives half the night from far down in San Joaquin, a county in California.
Then he drives through Mariposa up to the dangerous mountainous roads. In these lines, readers can find the use of kinesthetic and visual imagery.
The truck driver reaches the farm at eight in the morning. He stops the truck full of hay behind the barn for others to unload. In the last two lines, Snyder uses the repetition of the “b” sound in order to create an internal rhyming.
With winch and ropes and hooks
sweaty shirt and shoes.
In the next section, the poet describes the unloading process. This section is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. He is one of the workers. They unload the truck by using a winch, ropes, and hooks.
After that, they stack the bales up to the splintery rafters made of hard redwood. In the line “To splintery redwood rafters,” readers can find the alliteration of the “r” sound. After they placed all the bales on the rafters, the room became dark.
The speaker looks through the flecks of alfalfa. Light pours through the cracks. After the work is done, he feels itchy due to the presence of hay-dust in his shirt and shoes. In the last line of this section, readers can find a sibilance.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.”
The last few lines of ‘Hay for the Horses’ are about the lunchtime of the worker. After the morning’s draining work was done, they sat together under the Black oak. From there, the speaker could observe the activities of the old mare. It noses the lunchpails out in the hot corral. Alongside that, the grasshoppers make crackling sounds in the weeds.
In the next lines, one of the workers talks about his life as a hay deliverer. He is currently sixty-eight-year-old. When he was seventeen, he took the job. Then he was not aware of the fact that he had to do this job for the rest of his life. If he knew, he would hate to do this work. Humorously, it was what he did on that day.
Snyder writes ‘Hay for the Horses’ in free-verse. It means there is no specific rhyme or meter in the text. He uses internal rhyming a fair number of times. For instance, the title contains an internal rhyme of the “h” sound. Besides, the text contains three sections. The first two sections are about the activities. In the last section (the longest unit of the poem), Snyder describes their lunch session. The overall poem is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker.
Snyder makes use of the following literary devices in ‘Hay for the Horses’.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “He had,” “From far,” “With winch,” “redwood rafters,” etc.
- Enjambment: This device is used throughout the piece. For instance, the first seven lines of the poem are enjambed.
- Polysyndeton: It occurs in “With winch and ropes and hooks.” This line conveys a sense of continuity.
- Imagery: Snyder uses a great deal of imagery in this poem. For instance, he uses visual and kinesthetic imagery to describe how the hay was brought to the farm.
Gary Snyder’s ‘Hay for the Horses’ is all about a day’s sneak peek into the lives of a few workers. One of them brings hay to the farm, and others unload it. Then they sit together to have lunch.
The poem was first published in 1959 in Gary Snyder’s Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems. This collection explores the experiences of the poet as a forest lookout.
The title of the poem hints at the subject matter is the poem. It is about bringing hay for the horses. This piece describes how the hay is brought, stored, and given to the horses.
This poem taps on some important themes such as activity, working together, and life. The main idea of this poem deals with the daily activities of a group of men looking after horses.
The following list contains a few poems that tap on similar themes present in Gary Snyder’s poem ‘Hay for the Horses’.
- ‘Last Look’ by Seamus Heaney — This poem is about an old man who stands stationary and stares blankly at the fields.
- ‘Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape’ by John Ashbery — This piece uses cartoon characters to speak about middle-class dissatisfaction.
- ‘Cwm Farm near Capel Curig’ by Huw Menai — This poem comments on Welsh history and its continued presence in its people.
You can also explore other Gary Snyder poems.