This year, as in every other year, on the final day of the Horse of the Year Show, Sunday 11 October, the immortal words of Ronald Duncan’s eulogy, The Horse, will be recited.
Duncan wrote the poem in 1964 at the request of his friend Mike Ansell who was blinded during the retreat from Dunkirk in the Second World War. Ansell was director of the Horse of the Year Show from 1949 to 1975.
Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity?
Here where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined.
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent;
there is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England’s past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry.
We are his heirs;
He is our inheritance.
I have known that poem since my pony-mad teenage years and it brings back many memories.
However, I recently came across a poem by Byron, Epitaph to a Dog, written in 1808 in honour of his Newfoundland dog Boatswain, who had just died of rabies. (The poem is inscribed on Boatswain’s tomb, which is larger than Byron’s, at Newstead Abbey.) The opening lines bear quite a resemblance to The Horse. Not quite plagiarism but Duncan may well have been influenced by these heartfelt words.
Epitaph to a Dog
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices. …