Heavenly Horses #NaPoWriMo18 #NPM2018

flying horse of gansu

The Chinese had a different name for the Silk Road.
They called it the Horse Road,
a three-thousand mile route over mountains, desert, steppe
to a green basin ringed by mountain range.
There, a powerful horse grew on the grasses of the Ferghana Valley.
A horse swift and lean, built for endurance,
Barrel-chested, short-legged, long-necked
Bred for the mountain, the desert, the steppe,
A horse to carry an emperor’s cavalry.
A hundred thousand men crossed mountain, desert, steppe,
armed with weapons and the secrets of silk
to seize or negotiate the exchange of horses.

Heavenly horse, celestial being,
rumored to sweat blood,
rumored to fly higher than the swallows,
rumored to carry its rider to immortality.


Notes: An ekphrasis is a poem that describes a work of art. The Flying Horse of Gansu is a bronze statue made in China sometime in the second century CE. It likely depicted a Ferghana Valley horse, much prized by Emperor Wu. 

national poetry writing month 2018

4 responses to “Heavenly Horses #NaPoWriMo18 #NPM2018”

  1. I like the emphasis on story-telling with the repetition of “rumor.” The first line sets this up, and the line “there, a powerful horse grew on the grasses of the Ferghana Valley” reinforces the story-telling motif.

    I’m curious about the image. It’s beautiful. I’m going to China for spring break next year and am looking forward to seeing the Tera Cotta soldiers. I’m thinking about writing a poem this month about seeing Guernica last year, but I’m not sure I can do it justice.

    • My son chose to write one of his World History reports this semester on the Terra Cotta warriors, so we watched several documentaries about them. So fascinating! How wonderful to be able to see them in China. I saw a small exhibit of them when it was on tour in Europe when I lived there during college and was really amazed. This horse statue was discovered in the unearthing of a tomb in 1969 and has been placed on a list of 100 treasures that are never allowed to leave China!

  2. Our seventh graders study the Silk Road (or horse road) and despite the fact that we have a terrific seventh and eighth grade teacher, and despite the fact that he works really hard to make it interesting, they all talk about how boring the Silk Road unit is. I want to know the story behind this poem. Why did you choose this particular piece? Is that era or part of the world especially interesting to you. And like Glenda, I love the last three lines, with the emphasis on rumor.

    • The Silk Road boring?! WHAT?!?! My son is doing online school this year, and he had a project about the Silk Road that we worked on yesterday. I fell down a huge Internet rabbit hole and actually spent hours reading about the Silk Road, especially anything I could find out about these Ferghana Valley horses. My son joined me in a horse rabbit hole and we learned about several different Central Asian breeds! To be honest, I think my son was fairly bored by the Silk Road too, but I was over the moon interested. I’m ready to travel to Samarkand now! The piece of art actually came after the rest of the research. I decided today I wanted to write about the horses and tried haiku and tanka, which really didn’t work; then I remembered about ekphrastic poetry and decided to try that so went back to this piece that we saw just in passing yesterday and learned a little more about it.

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