Horse and Rider: sympathy and communion.

The special relationship between rider and horse was described with enormous power and simplicity by Rilke in Sonnet I,11 of Sonnets to Orpheus. He throws in a philosophical remark and some mysticism for good measure. A few years after I made the translation below, I attended a dressage exhibition in the grounds of a Loire chateau (Chambord, I think) where I witnessed a ride which I found deeply moving. In fact the word that came to mind to describe the relationship between woman and horse was love, so deep was the understanding, respect and consideration which passed between them. It was particularly striking because there was no eye contact, so that communication was entirely through touch and sound. Their attentiveness was like prayer. I wrote a poem which was inspired by Rilke’s poem and it follows directly after his.

Search the sky. Is there no constellation called 'Rider'? 
For this proud beast is strangely impressed  
on us. And a second, the one 
who speeds and slows him, and whom he carries.
Isn't it just like this, spurred on and then reined back, 
the sinewy nature of our being? 
Straight ahead then turning. At a touch, assent. 
New horizons. Then the two are one. 

But are they? Or do they rather 
each intend the way they choose together? 
Of course, table and pasture utterly divide them. 
Even the starry union is deceptive. 
And yet let us be happy for a little while, 
having faith in the image. That in the end is enough.             

With raised diagonal steps the white horse crosses the arena. 
A delay between between shaping and execution 
lends a floating hesitancy to his advance, 
delicate and precarious in its precision. 
Resisting the urge to break his difficult stride, 
horse, as much as rider, is fierce in concentration. 
Rocking slightly, tonguing his bit, breathing heavily, 
he searches each pace for hindrance and support. 

It is for the sake of his mistress 
that he perseveres in what is so arduous. 
For these rapt minutes grace is rendered by strength.
Like the chords of a melody, 
horse and rider, though cleft, advance as one. 
Or do they each intend the way they choose together? 

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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