I’ve recently been thinking about the poem from Carey McHugh’s American Gramophone that my group observed in class this week. The poem was “Death (as a Woman) Comes for the Draughtsman” on page 54. I remember we pointed out the idea of “stopping,” particularly in the first couple lines: “But there are horses / to be broken”. Then I realized something. The term “breaking a horse” means to train it. A broke horse is one that’s safe to ride. Here’s a description I found online:
“A well broke horse is one that is well trained and understands more than just the basics of go and whoa. A horse that is said to be broke to saddle or harness indicates what the horse has been trained for. Saddle breaking is training a horse to carry a rider, and harness breaking is training the horse to pull a vehicle.”
(You can read more from this link: https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-broke-horse-1886596.)
So I was thinking that, in addition to “stopping,” there’s a sense of this person’s desire to continue living. Breaking a horse is something that takes time. Then there are other examples of things to be done in the other two stanzas: “A partial sketch / curled on the table” and “bulbs sat out to be buried”. As we found before, a draughtsman (or draftsman) is someone who draws out sketches and plans. So this person also has plans to finish. And finally, we have these bulbs. The poem talks about death, but then brings in a hint of life through bulbs that are to be planted and grown. Using the word “buried,” however, might distract readers a little and keep them focused on the idea that an end is coming for this person. I think the same thing can be thought of the word “broken” used in place of “trained.” To sum it up, “planted” and “trained” are simple and light, while “buried” and “broken” sound darker.
I don’t remember if someone already mentioned any of this, so I thought I’d bring it up. These are just some additional thoughts I had about the poem, and I was curious to know what others think.