Horse Whisperer is a poem taken from Andrew Forster’s first collection “Fear of Thunder”, which was released in 2007. A horse whisperer is somebody who is able to achieve good things with a horse, taming a stubborn horse for instance. The term originated as people with this “gift” appeared to be able to talk or “whisper” to the horses to get them to do what they want. This poem is ostensibly on the face of it about a horse whisperer who is driven from his job by people who are accusing him of occult practices, however the underlying message could be one of how technology sometimes forces changes that render helpful, respected people to feel obsolete. Throughout the poem, and despite getting a measure of revenge against his tormentors, Forster manages to keep the narrator a sympathetic character by emphasizing his relationship and positive views of the horses.
Form and Tone
The poem is in free verse and consists of 6 stanzas of decreasing length. The meaning of this device is not obvious but it is a common feature in Forster’s poetry and could be used here to represent any number of things perhaps the horse whisperers dwindling happiness, or the reduced need for his skills, or maybe it is just used to increase the sense of urgency and drama. The poem doesn’t have a rhyme scheme and is written in free verse. It is written from a first person perspective and has a story-like feel with a beginning, middle and an end.
Horse Whisperer analysis
In this opening stanza the narrator (the horse whisperer) begins the story he is telling by describing how he was well regarded by people. The people requiring his services didn’t just call for him, but shouted. Straight away this creates a feeling of urgency but also emphasises the narrator’s importance. Horses in this stanza, as they are throughout, are put on a pedestal by the narrator. It is clear he has a strong affection for the animals by the words he uses to describe them such as “tender giants”. In this stanza the narrator describes his secret. The relevance of revealing this becomes clear later as he is accused of using magic, whereas we can see his remedies are simple herbs and not at all supernatural.
The narrators repetition here is a device in order to emphasise his prior importance to the horse owners. In this stanza the narrator regales how he was summoned to help remove horses from a fire. Once again he does this using a very natural method to get what he wants from the horses. We also see the continuing pattern of the description of the horses being kept positive, which helps to emphasise the sort of relationship that the horse whisper has with the animals. In the second line he describes the type of people he worked for: “stately heads” gives the idea of the people he worked for being well-to-do, wealthy types, probably landowners. This is consistent with the type of people one would associate with horse owners in the contemporary world. (although that is a bit of a generalisation).
In this stanza the story turns. The stanza doesn’t start as the other have with the horse whisperer being shouted for. Whilst the poem describes a tractor coming “like a warning” which gives the image of the man almost being chased away by the tractor. I think this stanza represents how the technology, that had begun to be introduced to the agricultural world, had started to make the once heralded horse whisperer obsolete and as his usefulness waned, apparently so did his reputation. I don’t think the narrator was literally driven from villages, but this stanza reflects how people’s opinions changed so quickly as to make him feel obsolete and like a bygone.
In this stanza we see the horse whisperer’s response to being usurped. Although up until this point the narrator’s kind regard for the natural world, represented by his love of horses, has been prevalent however this stanza shows that he has a dark side too. He is set to leave the country and his “parting gift” is to leave a “hex”, one would presume some kind of combination of herbs, above the stable doors in order to make a “trusted stallion” useless. When he talks of leaving the country his choice of words are interesting, he uses the term “stampede” this is a phrase associated with horses that have gone “wild” and lost control.
Still I miss them. Shire, Clydesdale, Suffolk.
The searing breath, glistening veins,
steady tread and the pride,
In this stanza the narrator uses three breeds of horse. This both shows the horse whisperers knowledge of his trade, but also adds to the pace of the final stanza. The assonance: “sear, breath” and “steady, tread” Gives the final stanza a consistent rhythm, which could be associated with a spell-like quality or could be a mirror for the trotting of horses hooves as they flee. Once again we see how highly the horses are revered as the narrator waxes lyrical about the animals.
most of all the pride.
I think the repetition here is to emphasise the narrator’s favourite characteristic of the horses. It also serves a dual purpose. The word pride is significant. The narrator clearly relates to these animals and there is a sense that it is his own pride that prevents him from staying where he is no longer wanted. Perhaps this realisation is that the horse whisperer is much like the animals that he tends to. It may be the case that the narrator realises on some levels that this level of pride isn’t always a positive thing and so reassures himself that it’s a good quality by finding it I the animal that he reveres so much.
About Andrew Forster
Andrew Forster is a British poet who was born in Yorkshire. He produces poetry that predominantly, but not exclusively pertains to children. (Horse Whisperer is not an example of this.) This is part of the reason that his poetry is studied as part of the curriculum in secondary schools in the UK.