The School Bag

The King’s Horses

John Hewitt

After fifty years, nearly,I remember.
living then in a quiet, leafy suburb.
waking in the darkness, made aware
of a continuously irregular noise,
and groping to the side window to discover
the shadow-shapes which made that muffled patter
passing across the end of our avenue,
the black trees and the streetlights shuttering
a straggle of flowing shadows, endless, of horses.
Gypsies they could have been, or tinkers maybe,
mustering to some hosting of their clans,
or horse-dealers heading their charges to the docks,
timed to miss the day's traffic and alarms:
a migration the newspapers had not foretold;
some battle’s ragged finish, dream repeated:
the last of an age retreating, withdrawing,
leaving us beggared, bereft
of the proud nodding muzzles, the nervous bodies:
gone from us the dark men with their ancient skills
of saddle and stirrup, or bridle and breeding.

It was an end, I was sure, but an end of what
I never could tell. It was never reported:
But the echoing hooves persisted. Years after,
in a London hotel in the grey dawn
a serious man concerned with certain duties,
I heard again the metal clatter of hooves staccato
and hurriedly rose to catch a glimpse of my horses,
but the pace and beat were utterly different:
I saw by the men astride these were the King’s horses
going about the King’s business, never mine. 1974