In his poem, “Pit Pony,” William Greenway recounts a tale that he hears while on a guided tour of mines in Wales. The story he tells in his poem is likely to be obscure for American readers, who may not be aware of the traditional Welsh practice of using ponies in the mine, referred to as the pit, for hauling and pulling tasks. This poem, then, serves an educative function and there is thus an expanded meaning of the poem “Pit Pony” by William Greenway, but far from being overly didactic, Greenway balances the historical lesson with a lesson in empathy in his poem. The poet conveys his compassion for the pit ponies, especially the last pony brought out of the mines. By speaking to his reader of this poem in a first-person voice and by training his attention on the development of powerful details, taking the reader into the mines with him, Greenway also evokes the reader’s interest and concern in the poem “Pit Pony”, causing him or her to make an emotional investment in the subject of the poem.
This work of poetry by William Greenway, “Pit Pony” opens with the speaker telling the reader what the tour guide has said in one of the important lines: “There are only a few left” (l. 1), and the ponies are “kept by old Welsh miners [as] souvenirs” (l. 2). This detail in the poem establishes the fact that the ponies serve a nostalgic function for the miners, whose severe treatment of the ponies contradicts their newfound feeling for what once were beasts of burden. Greenway is not judgmental of the miners; instead, he develops a more sophisticated and subtle approach to condemning the practice of using pit ponies. He immediately moves into a description of the mine that helps the reader of the poem understand just how difficult the conditions of the mine are. The mine is “so cold and wet my/breath comes out a soul” (ll. 4-5). It is dark, of course, “and the almost pure/rust that grows and waves like/orange moss in the gutters of water / that used to rise and drown” (ll. 9-12). When the tour guide turns off the lights in the mine to give the tourists a sense of just how dark the work could be, the writer feels comforted by the presence of his wife beside him, but observes “This is where/they [the ponies] were born, into this nothing” (ll. 18-19). Once born, the ponies had to nuzzle in the dark for “warm bag of/black milk” (ll. 21-22), and once mature, spent “twenty years” (l. 22) pulling their trams “through pitch” (l. 23). As if this life had not been hard enough, the ponies, like the miners, had few, if any pleasures, however simple. There were “birds/ that didn’t sing” (ll. 23-24) and there were five year olds working in the “cheap, complete blackness” (l. 26) to open doors. The picture of a depressing situation is complete, but Greenway wonders how the last pony, having been brought to the surface, almost blind, will understand its dislocation and its loneliness. It is in this last section of “Pit Pony” that Greenway is most skillful in eliciting a feeling of solitude sadness in the reader. “Pit Pony” is a powerful poem that moves the reader because it avoids obvious didacticism and an overly sentimental view. Greenway simply reports what he says and recounts how it made him feel; the reader is left to decide how he or she feels and whether the practice of using pit ponies should be condemned
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Greenway, William. “Pit Pony.” Retrieved on May 10, 2007 fromhttp://capa.conncoll.edu/greenway.where.html#pit