Today I am choosing to examine the pony in Wordsworth’s “The Idiot Boy.” The more I read “The Idiot Boy” over, the more confused and curious I am by the speaker’s remarks about the pony and what messages they build into the poem, presumably about nature and human relationship to animals.
For of this Pony there’s a rumour,
That, should he lose his eyes and ears,
And should he live a thousand years,
He never will be out of humour.
So, here the message I’m getting is that the pony in question will remain good-natured (hah. It now occurs to me how that description is coded!) and useful so long as he lives, “humour” meaning in 1798 “compliant and agreeable”, according to the OED. I’m interested here in the pony’s personification, as Wordsworth seems to be suggesting a quality of the pony’s character rather than his usefulness as a horse.
But then he is a horse that thinks!
And when he thinks, his pace is slack;
Now, though he knows poor Johnny well,
Yet, for his life, he cannot tell
What he has got upon his back.
Again, the pony is doing people-things! Weird! He’s a horse that thinks and apparently can’t multitask. And, while knowing his rider very well, he doesn’t recognize him? Why is this here and what does it mean?
Unworthy things she talked, and wild;
Even he, of cattle the most mild,
The Pony had his share.
Here, it would appear to me that Betty Foy, in her mad dash around the woods to find Johnny and the pony, is blaming even the pony for Johnny’s disappearance…could this suggest human projection onto animals? Perhaps the dichotomy between humans’ construction and animal nature? And, how does that question relate to the pony who apparently thinks as he meanders down the road?
And now she sits her down and weeps;
Such tears she never shed before;
“Oh dear, dear Pony! my sweet joy!
Oh carry back my Idiot Boy! 0
And we will ne’er o’erload thee more.”
Now Betty Foy is feeling guilt for her treatment of the pony and using fair treatment as leverage for the pony bringing him back. Again I think of human projection onto animals.
A thought is come into her head:
The Pony he is mild and good,
And we have always used him well;
Perhaps he’s gone along the dell,
And carried Johnny to the wood.
Apparently that guilt part wasn’t such a big deal to Betty Foy…here I see the frailty of our projections, how they are ultimately constructions that we impart onto animals, nature, etc. that do not inherently have these ideas, intentions, motivations or abilities.
Your Pony’s worth his weight in gold:
Then calm your terrors, Betty Foy!
Why would the speaker say this and what does he mean? Why is the narrator interacting about the pony now and his worth? Perhaps that animals can be reduced to their material worth, and that’s it?
She pats the Pony, where or when
She knows not, happy Betty Foy!
The little Pony glad may be,
But he is milder far than she,
You hardly can perceive his joy.
Perplexed! Again. Betty Foy is excitedly patting the pony all over the place, and conversely, the pony feels mild gladness that can hardly be perceived…again, though, the pony has joy in being reunited with Betty Foy.
I don’t quite know what is going on here but I am so excited to find out!