Saturday, 24 December 2011
The Ethics of Horse Riding
‘Up and away through the drifting rain!/ Let us ride to the Little Tower again’. These two lines, from Morris’s poem ‘The Little Tower’, constitute for me the most exciting beginning in all his poetry and make one realise how pervasive the experience of horse-riding is across it.
There are lonely horse-rides in Morris’s poetry, as when Lancelot makes his way dolefully across the Wiltshire downs in ‘King Arthur’s Tomb’; but the much more characteristic experience is of vigorous fellowship on horseback. ‘We rode together/In the winter weather/To the broad mead under the hill’; or ‘For many days we rode together/Yet met we neither friend nor foe’. The latter poem is even entitled ‘Riding Together’, which announces the ethic behind this series of texts clearly enough.
Morris had himself experienced such equine companionship on a brief riding holiday with Charles Faulkner in Wales in April 1875, and more extendedly on his two Iceland trips of 1871 and 1873. In News from Nowhere the children in the Kensington forest are ‘used to tumbling about the little forest ponies’ (ch.V), so one imagines that riding together counts for something in utopia too. That being so, I suspect that here is another new activity which the Morris Society should be promoting – Morrisian riding parties across the English countryside.
I am influenced in all this by that wonderful Edwin Muir poem ‘The Horses’ which I studied for A-level with my teacher Mr A.J. Webster. After a nuclear apocalypse humanity in that poem has to tentatively relearn its old, healthy relationship with horses; and in our own environmentally threatened epoch we surely have to do that too. Let us Morrisians lead the way!