Essay on "The Centaur"
May Swenson's poem "The Centaur," reveals the endless bounds of a child's fancy. It radiates a feeling of adventure and discovery typical of youth. Such elements as language, imagery, structure, and point of view serve to spotlight the girl's imagination.
The language in this poem is characteristic of the innocence of a young girl. In selecting " . . . a fresh horse from [her] stable . . . which was a willow grove" (ll. 6-7), the girl instantly enters her dream world. She tells, through simple words, how she " . . . cuts [herself] a long limber horse . . . [with] a few leaves for the tail . . . "(ll. 11-14). She displays her youth through childlike terms used throughout the poem. When she describes the leather " . . . [spanking] her own behind" (l.40), her use of 'spank' represents her juvenility. Her language throughout the poem also helps to enhance the imagery.
The most prevalent images throughout the poem are that of the willow branch as a pony and the girl as a centaur. In line 17 the girl begins her imagined ride. However, by line 19, as " . . . the lovely dust that talcumed over his hoofs, [hides her] toes . . . " (ll. 19-20) she begins to be the centaur. Her imagination begins to run free, whereby not only is the branch a horse, but she is also a horse. "[Her] head and her neck were [hers] and yet they were shaped like a horse" (ll. 27-8) illustrates the moment in which she and the 'horse' are one and the same. The closer the girl gets to her mother, the more she disassociates from the 'horse'. She begins to separate, "I was the horse and the rider . . . " (l.38) then she becomes more human " . . . my two hoofs beat . . . " (l.41). Finally, she detaches herself completely, " . . . I sat on my steed, quiet, negligent riding . . . ". In the final stanza, she is a completely human girl, conversing with her mother.
The structure of this poem is representative of the underdeveloped status of the girl. The style of the stanzas is relatively simplistic, consisting of twenty triplets and a quatrain. The lines are unrhymed except for lines 3 and 4 wherein "ten" (l. 3) and "then" (l. 4) rhyme internally. The writing style of the poem is free verse and it contains various examples of enjambment. Beginning in line 55, the poem turns from a narrative to a dialogue between the girl and her mother. The dialogue serves to break the girl completely away from her fantasy world.
The point of view throughout the poem is that of the girl looking back at " . . . the summer when [she] was ten . . . "(l. 3). The poem is a flashback to a happy time in the girl's life when she was free and innocent and full of fantasy. The story told in the poem, through dreamy, childish eyes, is interrupted in line 55 when the adult (i.e. the mother) enters. At that moment, although the child remains narrator, she tells the story with less enthusiasm and joy. From that moment on the child acts more adult, more civilized.
Clearly, the use of language, imagery, structure, and imagery in this poem emphasize the guilelessness and purity of a young girl. Those elements effectively accent the girl's sense of adventure. The poem serves to illustrate what it is like to be a ten-year old girl.