I was walking this week’s walk. We stopped to pass the time of day. I was in no hurry: neither were they. The horse watched us.
“This is such a lovely place,” the woman said. “We hardly knew where to go on this day. I am so glad we came here, and saw all these buttercups. It’s like a field of pure gold. It gives a feeling of hope just to see them.”.
“We lost our daughter, our only daughter,” said the man.
“In a car accident. Not her fault. A year ago this day.
“We wanted to go somewhere peaceful, and remember her.
“She had such a lovely smile and gold hair.”
There is not much one can say to such a sudden and intimate and tragic revelation. Just listen, and let them know you can understand their pain. The thought of such a thing happening to oneself is enough. The horse continued to watch us. It didn’t move. Then the sun came out from behind a cloud and the flowers became brilliant and glittered in reflected light.
“One of the loveliest places we’ve seen,” the woman repeated, almost to herself. Then: “She loved horses.”
We parted: I to walk on, they to stand awhile by themselves and take some comfort from the serenity of that quiet place.
They say horses, like dogs, have empathy. So it may be. The woods and the old green Sussex hills around were certainly soothing to the spirit, while finding a meadow so full of golden buttercups was almost unreal – heraldic in import.
I could not forget that horse. No wonder the Romans adopted Celtic iconography of the horse goddess Epona, a symbol of the fertility of the earth, a protector of people, both alive, and dead in the underworld.
I remembered horses on our farm in Norfolk as a child during the second world war: how their warmth and enormous presence was reassuring. Father had felt that long before, as a transport officer in the first world war in charge of the horses and mules taking supplies of food and ammunition up the front line every night, and later describing his warhorses in his stories of the shattered battlefields detail long before the subject became fashionable.
Then I remembered that curious story by Ted Hughes, late Poet Laureate, called The Rain Horse. A mad horse in a storm in a field with thorns surrounding it terrorises a man trying to walk home. Such a totally different experience. It seems to me that Hughes was using that horse as an explanation, or warning to himself, of his own psyche.
That horse was as cruel and violent as he himself, a threat to his very own self when out of control. (Much of his poetry is violent and cruel.) I had heard that story read on the radio when I was a young lad. It is a very frightening story.
But the horse in the buttercup field last week was the symbol of hope (to that mother especially) of the white charger which will come to the rescue, a necessary fantasy of relief for the mind bereft. It stood there, epitome of patience. It had the air of a creature that had existed from eternity and would go on to the end of time. Of course, it might just have been hoping for a sugar-lump.
Whatever, I was happy for the sake of that bereaved couple that it was there, at the right moment, in that field of gold.