She Had Some Horses

Joy Harjo

‘She Had Some Horses’ by Joy Harjo illustrates the plurality of differences among people.

Joy Harjo

Nationality: America

Joy Harjo is a major American poet who was chosen as poet laureate of the United States.

She’s the first Native American to hold that position.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: People vary greatly to the point of contradiction

Themes: Identity, Religion

Speaker: An indigenous woman

Emotions Evoked: Empathy, Frustration, Terror

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

This poem creatively uses anaphora with impressive effect, employing arresting imagery and uses of figurative language

‘She Had Some Horses’ is a powerful poem that uses figurative language to creatively ponder the multitudes of similarities and differences we share as humans. Using anaphora, Harjo describes a myriad of “horses” as symbols of human contradiction and range. The poem also highlights the struggles of Indigenous Americans (especially women) as they harbor hope against the equally varying ways they’ve been subjected to abuse.


‘She Had Some Horses’ by Joy Harjo is a poem that projects the variety of human personality and experience onto a symbolic collection of horses.

‘She Had Some Horses’ is about mirroring the many, many ways humanity is both alike and unlike itself. Using the repeated phrase that’s also shared by the title, the speaker catalogs a collage of different “horses” owned by an unnamed “she.” At first, these horses are described solely in abstract terms as reflections of nature or impressions of moments and feelings. But then they start to grow more concrete, coalescing around an identity that’s Indigenous American and female. Eventually, the horses start to express traits reserved for humans — embodying both the best and worst in people. By the end of the poem, it’s clear the horses are really just the individual people this “she” has encountered in life.

You can read the full poem here.

Structure and Form

‘She Had Some Horses’ is a 44-line poem comprised of eight stanzas separated by the repeated phrase (“She had some horses”). There is no definite rhyme scheme or meter. Harjo also begins each end-stopped line with an example of anaphora, repeating the same phrase throughout the poem. This contributes to the poem’s attempt to accentuate the paradox of finding diversity cohabitating within the same species of thing (i.e., horses, people).

Literary Devices

‘She Had Some Horses’ relies mainly on its use of figurative language to convey the wide array of horses the speaker is describing. Some of those metaphors are also allusions to the violence against Indigenous Americans (“horses who were maps drawn of blood”) and their immense capacity to look beyond their storied abuse (“horses who waltzed nightly on the moon”). There are also examples of chremamorphism, the impression of inanimate qualities onto living beings (“horses who were skins of ocean water,” “horses who were clay and would break”); and personification (“horses who threw rocks at glass houses,” “horses who danced in their mothers’ arms”).

Then there’s the symbolism of the “horses” themselves, which is used as almost a euphemism for “humans” (and at times, especially near the end of the poem, Indigenous women). Horses were vital to many Indigenous American tribes and, as such, make a moving and convenient, if not intentionally jarring, stand-in for people. Representing the immense scope of people that the speaker omnisciently gleans as belonging to — or rather, known — by the unnamed “she.”

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-8

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.

‘She Had Some Horses’ is characterized by the speaker’s diverse descriptions of many different horses owned by the unnamed “she.” The first eight lines ground much of the speaker’s vivid imagery in the physical appearances of the animals, which appear to mirror elements of the natural world. Describing their “bodies” and “skins” in terms of the landscape (“sand,” “ocean water,” “splintered red cliff”) creates an ethereal vision of elemental horses. Which in turn symbolizes and embodies the vital reliance Indigenous tribes share in regard to the environment. The phrase “maps drawn of blood” could also be an allusion to the ways that landscape has been conquered and colonized through violence.

Lines 9-14

She had some horses.

She had horses with long, pointed breasts.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.

In the next sequence, the speaker moves away from describing the horses as reflections of their landscape. Instead, they begin to personify humans in appearance and character, specifically women. Just as with the descriptions of the horses as parts of nature, the speaker catalogs indiscriminately and without condemnation a complex variety of personas. Highlighting via the horses all the varieties in physical appearance (“long, pointed breasts” and “full, brown thighs”) and temperament that humans share: from those that appear a little too self-righteous for their own good (throwing “rocks at glass houses”) to those that enjoy violence more than they should — or are prone to self-destruction (“licked razor blades”).

Lines 15-19

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.

As the comparisons continue, the speaker grows ever more abstract in their descriptions of the horses. In this section, they give further examples of the sometimes contradicting and free-wheeling assortment of people that “she” has known. The images that follow are dramatic and cosmic, from simple symbols of tenderness and love (“danced in their mothers’ arms”) to examples of passionate imagination (“who thought they were the sun and their bodies shone and burned like stars”). While the juxtaposition of the last two lines between the “horses” that “waltzed on the moon” with those that, out of shyness, “kept quiet in stalls of their own making “furthers this motif of plurality amongst seemingly identical things (i.e., horses, humans).

Lines 20-26

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.

The speaker alludes to the “Creek Stomp Dance” that some horses enjoy, an allusion to the traditional dance performed by Indigenous tribes across North America. More juxtapositions of tone occur as the speaker follows that image of celebration with the dreary mention of horses who “cried in their beer.” The speaker also reveals the horse’s capacity for hate and prejudice (“spit at male queens who made them afraid of themselves”) against those they violently other; their profession of fearlessness (which can be read as both arrogant or in a more sympathetic light); their ability to lie (possibly about being not afraid); and their willingness to tell the truth even at brutal cost (“stripped of their tongues”). All of this can be applied to humanity as a whole, but it’s clear the speaker is honing in on the plight of Indigenous tribes in particular.

Lines 27-31

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse.”

This section deals mainly with the ways the horses identified themselves. Some of the horses refer to themselves exactly as they appear (“called themselves, ‘horse'”). In contrast, others were more ambiguous and secretive (“called themselves, ‘spirit.’ and kept their voices secret and to themselves”). Some had “no names,” and others had many (“books of names”). Once again, the speaker emphasizes the vast varieties of the horses, especially regarding something as important as personal labels such as names. In many Indigenous American traditions were not given at birth but at a defining age or moment in the person’s life, and they could be changed or supplemented with new additions, evolving with the individual as they move through life.

Lines 32-36

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.

As the poem continues, the speaker gives grows far darker in both tone and mood. Images of isolation and silence (“whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak”) are juxtaposed with ones of frenzied terror (“screamed out of fear of the silence, who carried knives”). But the core theme of this sequence is despair versus hope, which is characterized beautifully by the twin horses who await either “destruction” or “resurrection.”

Lines 37-40

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any savior.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.

The speaker seems to continue this idea of “resurrection” by mixing it with a desire for salvation. The horses are desperate enough to get “down on their knees for any savior” (an allusion to the ways religious submission fueled by fear can be abused) or who think their wealth can protect them (“their high price had saved them”). But the abhorrence of religion as a means of control is nowhere as potent as the final line in this section. Where the speaker explains how the horses who tried to “save” the unnamed “she” were also the same ones who “climbed” into her bed and “prayed as they raped her.”

Lines 41-44

She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

The speaker ends the poem by giving one final, succinct image of the poem’s theme of human multitudes. Given the vastness of the horses described, it’s probably not such a big surprise that the unnamed “she” finds themselves regarding that spectrum with an equally drastic binary — “she loved” and “she hated.” But the real phenomenon that the speaker and, by extension, Harjo point to (which is reinforced by the anaphora of “She had some horses”) is the paradox of finding unity in multiplicity. “These were the same horses,” the speaker reveals at the end of the poem. A powerful reminder of the common denominator (our humanity) that should be steering us towards greater harmony but ends up being, more often than not, the reason for our schisms.


What is the theme of ‘She Had Some Horses?

The poem’s theme is arranged around two ideas the speaker implies about people: their vast and oftentimes contradictory nature. Over the course of the poem, they introduce the reader to a plurality of horses that represent locations, elements, emotions, character flaws, and so much more. The purpose of this is to highlight the complex ways in which humanity is both similar and dissimilar from itself. This dichotomy even crops up within the individual as well.

Why is anaphora important to ‘She Had Some Horses?

Anaphora is crucial to the poem’s theme and its articulation of it. The repetition of the phrase “She had some horses” underscores the limitless variety of “horses” the speaker has encountered or has embodied themselves.

Why did Joy Harjo write ‘She Had Some Horses?

Harjo uses the poem to chronicle in a viscerally intimate manner a list of impressions she’s gathered from other people and the world around her. As with much of her writing, she draws on the experiences of Indigenous women like herself, juxtaposing both her immeasurable resilience and the many violations against her.

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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.
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