The Horse Poisoner by Thomas Lux

‘The Horse Poisoner’ is a mysterious and absurd poem that delves into a series of horse deaths in a single town. The events are very usual and at times frightening. No one knows what to make of it, adding to the overall mood of the piece. The diction is clear and colloquial and the whole poem reads like one friend telling another about what’s happening in their town. 


Summary of The Horse Poisoner

‘The Horse Poisoner’ by Thomas Lux depicts a series of mysterious horse deaths in several nearby farms and the investigation into those deaths. 

The poem takes the reader through the investigation into the horse deaths from a single speaker’s perspective. He is clearly interested in what’s happening as is the rest of the town. No one knows what to make of it and all anyone has is theories. They eventually get blood tests from “the Feds,” and it turns out they were all poisoned by the poem ends without revealing the culprit. 

You can read the full poem here at Poetry Foundation.


Structure of The Horse Poisoner 

The Horse Poisoner’ by Thomas Lux is a twenty-seven line narrative poem that s contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They vary in length as well. The shortest is only three words long and the longest stretches out to eleven. 

Despite the lack of a specific rhyme scheme, there are examples of full-rhyme and half-rhyme within ‘The Horse Poisoner’. There is an example of full-rhyme at the ends of lines three and five with “no” and “row”. Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “died” and “surprise” at the ends of lines eight and nine as well as “shot” and “off” at the ens of lines ten and thirteen. 


Poetic Techniques in The Horse Poisoner 

 Lux makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Horse Poisoner’. These include, but are not limited to, enjambment, alliteration, and imagery. The latter, imagery, refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. In this case, the poet creates a very clear picture of the dead horses lying in the town square it is dark and mysterious, taking the poem from mysterious to foreboding. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “two,” “two,” and “town” in lines one and two and “Freddy” and “Feds” in line twenty-three. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines three and four as well as five and six. 


Analysis of The Horse Poisoner

Lines 1-8 

In the first lines of ‘The Horse Poisoner,’ the speaker begins by making a simple statement about the overarching mystery. “No one knew why the horses were dying,” he declares. The following lines depict the death and the investigation into those deaths. The next lines together provide the reader with an example of accumulation. Lux brings the information together, taking the reader from one death to the next. 

It seems as though no one was spared a horse death in these first lines. From one farm to the next to the “mayor’s son’s pony,” many horses died. As they investigated more horses died and they still had no answer. 


Lines 9-18 

In the next lines of ‘The Horse Poisoner,’ the speaker adds that there was one horse who died and it was not a “surprise”. The rhyme in this line and the previous is one of the more obvious ones. 

The speaker explains how everyone sought connections between one death and the next but there did not appear to be anything in common, aside from the fact that they were all horses. The numbers continue to pile up and then all of a sudden they stop for “two months”. These murders take on the pattern of many others, leading the people of the town to speculate about what kind of person is committing them. 

A reader should take note of the instances of half-time in these lines and ho they benefit the overall rhythm of the poem. For example, “sheriff” and “off” and “deaths” and “months”. These can occur at the ends of lines as well as within lines. There is a great example of enjambment in the transition between lines thirteen and fourteen when the speaker is talking about the “errant hunter”. 

Suddenly, the killings returned there are three horses found dead in the town square at dawn. They were discovered by the speaker’s cousin Freddy. This pulls the speaker into the narrative in a way that he hadn’t been before. It’s now personal for him. 


Lines 19-27 

In the final nine lines of ‘The Horse Poisoner,’ the speaker reveals that the killer was never uncovered but the method of murder was. The “poison / was delivered with the aid of a carrot / or a sugar cube in a carrot”. There is an interesting phrase in lines twenty and twenty-one where the speaker acknowledges the fact that horses rarely lie down flat unless they’re dead or sick. The word “dead” at the end of the twenty-first line rhymes, mostly, with “Feds” at the end of line twenty-three. 

The poem ends without a conclusion to the mystery. It’s unclear what happens next or if the horse murders continued. 

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