Write an essay of not more than 1500 words in which you analyse the poem and comment on the poetic form and language used and the way they contribute to the meaning and effects of the poem. ‘The Horse and his Rider’ is a formal descriptive lyrical ode written by Joanna Baillie (1762-1851). It provides a glorious picture of a horse and soldier about to go to war. The speaker is the female poet, and the impression given to the reader is that she is a witness to the scene described. She is expressing her opinion of a personal experience.
Her words are an admiration of the beauty and bravery of a horse and his rider. The poem is written in twenty-two continuous lines of verse divided into an octave, a sestet and an octave. The first octave and sestet are dedicated to the horse with the final octave being about the rider. This structure of the poem is balanced but gives two different and unbalanced observations. Baillie employs a simple balanced rhyming structure of aabbccddeeffgg hhiijjkk throughout the poem, divided into eleven pairs of heroic couplets – the general eighteenth-century practice of writing rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter.
Although there is an extra beat in the first line, the poem has a conventional structure and formality and a regular, smooth and balanced pace. Each line ends with either a comma, full stop or semi-colon, and this affects how the poem is read, ensuring that the reader pauses at regular intervals and enhancing the flow of the verse. Visually, the regular length of each line provides the reader with a simple and easy to read block of verse and this regularity recreates a regular, smooth movement that contains sound and motion.
The smoothness of the verse is enhanced by Baillie’s use of assonance in the final words of several lines such as breed and steed (ll. 1;2), south and mouth (ll. 9;10), pride and side (ll. 13;14) and sight and might (ll. 15;16). In each of the first fourteen lines Baillie uses ‘thy’, ‘thou’ and ‘thine’ when referring to the horse and this repetition gives the reverential feeling of a prayer – is she intending her words to be a blessing for the ignorant beast before the fighting that lies ahead?
It is clear that the poet is not telling a story but relating a moment in time, painting a clear picture of the sight before her eyes. This could be an actual event witnessed by Baillie or she could be writing about an historical event from a painting. The poem’s opening line is strong and immediately gets the attention of the reader. “Sinewy vigour” (l. 1) suggests the strength of the horse by giving the reader an image of muscles and tendons.
The second line reiterates the beast’s great strength, ending almost reverently with “thou stately steed” (l.2) that is enhanced by Baillie’s use of alliteration. “Broad chest” and “battle’s front (l. 3) are further allusions to the horse’s strength and also give a feeling of the beast’s pride and bravery. Likewise, “Erect in air” (l. 13) is another reference to the horse’s courage and confidence. Later in the poem, “Arched neck” (l. 6) and “curving haunches” (l. 11), added to the previous references to parts of the horse’s anatomy, give a feeling for the shape and beauty of the beast. Baillie uses visual imagery throughout to create movement in the scene.
The alliterative use of “fair floating” creates a clear picture of the horse’s mane blowing in the metaphorical “winds of heaven” (l. 4) – a reminder of the horse’s immortality. “Sweepy tail” (l. 12) is another example of movement and the reader can almost see the “clouds of sand” (l. 12) that are swished up as the horse prances and stamps in anticipation.
That the horse is ready for what lies before it is clear. Baillie uses imagery to provide her readers with a clear mental picture – “battle’s front” (l. 3), “winds of heaven” (l. 4), the “white-churning foam” (l. 7), “curling smoke” and “kindling eyeballs” (l.9) being prime examples. The references to smoke and fire could liken the horse to the legendary ferocious and terrifying fire-breathing dragons.
The words also act on another of the reader’s senses and the “Champing hoofs” (l. 5) on the pebbles and the “thunder of thy mouth” (l. 10) as the horse impatiently waits are almost audible. Baillie uses the description of “dreadful” (l. 10) to enhance the noise. “Chafi?? d bits” (l. 7) increases the idea that the horse is more than ready to go and is chafing at the bit and the horse’s fervour is increased as “from thy nostril bursts the curling smoke” (l.8).