Friday, September 18, 2009

Poetry Friday: i once knew a man

One of my favorite blogs (by one of my favorite people) features "Poetry Friday." I'm following suit. Here is one by lucille clifton.

i once knew a man

i once knew a man who had wild horses killed.
when he told about it
the words came galloping out of his mouth
and shook themselves and headed off in
every damn direction. his tongue
was wild and wide and spinning when he talked
and the people he looked at closed their eyes
and tore the skins off their backs as they walked away
and stopped eating meat.
there was no holding him once he got started;
he had had wild horses killed one time and
they rode him to his grave.

I taught this poem, many years ago, in first-year college composition classes as an example of complex use of metaphor. The students generally had a terrible time with it. So many wrote how awful it was that the horses came back to run him down. The poem to me is so clearly dream-like and mythopoetic, rooted in the literal world but branching extravagantly in the ether, as poetry will do. But my students were not very familiar with metaphor or ether. Of course, they were only seventeen or eighteen years old and more adept at being good students than at life.

I can't say, then, that I "taught them" this poem. I introduced them to it. Who knows, maybe some of them are haunted by its phrases and wish they could remember where they read it, or when.


  1. "Breathe, you are online." And I did. Lovely. Thanks. Can I steal this?

    1. To Nancy: I would say, we should avoid taking what isn't freely offered. But the dharma circulates through being given and then passed along. So I say, copy the image, use it for good, and then do something kind for the world.

      Full disclosure: this image doesn't belong to me. Google gave me sticky fingers. So my words are directed to myself as much as -- or even more than -- for you. ;-)

      Ten thousand mistakes ...


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