Wild Horses Dragging You Away

A thousand horse and none to ride! –
With flowing tail, and flying mane,
Wide nostrils never stretched by pain,
Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,
And feet that iron never shod,
And flanks unscarred by spur or rod,
A thousand horse, the wild, the free,
Like waves that follow o’er the sea,
Came thickly thundering on…

Lord Byron, XVII, Mazeppa (1818)

Mazeppa tells the story of a cossack courtier who falls in love with a countess and is punished by her husband by being tied to the back of a wild horse, which then charges away with him. Byron’s poem was adapted into a play that was a smash hit in the nineteenth century, possibly because Mazeppa was often played by a scantily clad actress in a bodystocking who would flail around on a horse that careered up a fake mountain at the climactic moment. It made the career of Adah Isaacs Menken, as Punch wrote:

Here’s half the town – if bills be true –
To Astley’s nightly thronging,
To see the Menken throw aside
All to her sex belonging,
Stripping off woman’s modesty,
With woman’s outward trappings –
A barebacked jade on barebacked steed,
In Cartlich’s old strappings!”

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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