Like Panshin’s horse, not permitted to be willful,
Trembling incessantly and champing the bit–
It is worthy of examination.
Written by September 24, 1915
First published in The Poems of Marianne Moore, ed. Grace Schulman, New York: Viking, 2003, p. 43, ll. 3-5.
These lines comprise one of a series of similes for the “Reprobate Silver” of the title. They are suggested by Ivan Turgenev’s novel A House of Gentlefolk which tells the story of a young man betrayed by wife.
Away on a visit to his cousin, Marya, he reads in the press that his wife has died. Thinking himself free, he falls in love with Marya’s daughter, Liza, and they plan to marry. Panshin returns home after the visit and finds his wife alive and well. They do not divorce but live apart; Liza enters a convent.
Moore is clearly concentrating on the horse; perhaps the story is only incidental to the poem, or even merely occasional. Here is the context from a translation that Moore might have read:
Marya Dmitrievna went up to the window.
How do you do, Woldemar! Ah, what a splendid horse! Where did you buy it ?’
‘ I bought it from the army contractor. . . . He made me pay for it too, the brigand!’
‘ What’s its name ?’
‘ Orlando. . . . But it’s a stupid name; I want to change it . . . Eh bien, eh bien, mon garcon. . . . What a restless beast it is!’
The horse snorted, stamped, pawed the ground, and shook the foam off the bit.
‘ Lenotchka, stroke him, don’t be afraid.’
The little girl stretched her hand out of the window, but Orlando suddenly reared and started. The rider with perfect self-possession gave it a cut with the whip across the neck, and keeping a tight grip with his legs forced it, in spite of its opposition, to stand still again at the window.
‘ Prenez garde, prenez garde,’ Marya Dmitrievna kept repeating.
‘ Lenotchka, pat him,’ said the young man, ‘ I won’t let him be perverse.’
The little girl again stretched out her hand and timidly patted the quivering nostrils of the horse, who kept fidgeting and champing the bit.
‘ Bravo!’ cried Marya Dmitrievna,’ but now get off and come in to us.’
The rider adroitly turned his horse, gave him a touch of the spur, and galloping down the street soon reached the courtyard. A minute later he ran into the drawing-room by the door from the hall, flourishing his whip; at the same moment there appeared in the other doorway a tall, slender dark-haired girl of nineteen, Marya Dmitrievna’s eldest daughter, Lisa.
Ivan Turgenev, A House of Gentlefolk, tr. Constance Garnett, New York: Macmillan, 1906, pp. 13-15.