The High Horse
W.N. Herbert

After the ninth year it seemed to the Achaeans
that they had always lived inside the Horse.
Those in the wooden belly came to believe
that they were aboard a salt-cleaving ship

and that the bellow’s oars they worked upon
pulled not air but all across the pine-dark sea,
while to those heroes on the upper galleries
it was now heroic to blind their helmets’ slits

as the Cunning Goddess had advised with shells
so that they might drag the corpses out onto
their high Horse’s back for the unkind sun and for
the warrior-devouring crows they’d trap and eat.

All tell of the Dardanians was as in dreams
or in those myths that calm the maddened or
beguile the starved: Ilium seemed as strange
as home or as the hope of ever reaching there.

Confined now to their cabins in the Horse’s head
in case of mutiny, Menelaus and Odysseus thumbed
crackling parchment streetmaps showing where
the treasure houses and the palaces must still be

should the signal ever come: three sharp knocks
of the traitor spear that like the blunt clapper in
a wooden bell would rouse in all the host
a memory of rapine and the lust for slaughter.

W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University and was Dundee's inaugural Makar from 2013 to 2018. His collections include Forked Tongue (1994), Cabaret McGonagall (1996), The Laurelude (1998), The Big Bumper Book of Troy (2002), Bad Shaman Blues (2006), Omnesia (2013) and The Wreck of the Fathership (2020). Twice shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, his collections have also been shortlisted for the Forward Prize, McVities Prize, Saltire Awards and Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award. Four are Poetry Book Society Recommendations. In 2014 he was awarded a Cholmondeley Prize for his poetry, and an honorary doctorate from Dundee University. In 2015 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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