Horses of the Camargue



A poem by Roy Campbell


In the grey wastes of the dread,
The haunt of shattered gulls where nothing moves
But in a shroud of silence like the dead,
I heard a sudden harmony of hooves,

And, turning, saw afar
A hundred snowy horses unconfined,
The silver runaways of Neptune's car
Racing, spray-curled, like waves before the wind.

Sons of the Mistral, fleet,
As him with whose strong gusts they love to flee,
Who shod the flying thunders on their feet
And plumed them with the snortings of the sea;

Theirs in no earthly breed
Who only haunt the verges of the earth
And only on the sea’s salt herbage feed –
Surely the great white breakers gave them birth.

For when for years a slave,
A horse of the Camargue, in alien lands,
Should catch some far-off fragrance of the wave
Carried far inland from his native sands,

Many have told the tale
Of how in fury, foaming at the rein,
He hurled his rider; and with lifted tail,
With coal-red eyes and cataracting mane,

Though sixty foreign leagues before him sweep,
Will never rest until he breathes the foam
And hears the native thunder of the deep.

But when the great gusts rise
And lash their anger on these and coasts,
When the scared gulls career with mournful cries
And whirl across the waste like driven ghosts:

When hail and fire converge,
The only souls to which they strike no pain
Are the white-crested fillies of the surge
And the white horses of the windy plain.

Then in their strength and pride
The stallions of the wilderness rejoice;
They feel their Master’s trident in their side,
And high and shrill they answer to his voice.

With white tails smoking free,
Long streaming manes, and arching necks, they show
Their kinship to their sisters of the sea -
And forward hurl their thunderbolts of snow.

Still out of hardship bred,
Spirits of power and beauty and delight
Have ever on such frugal pastures fed
And loved to course with tempests through the night.