Lunar New Year Poem “Prayer for the Year of the Horse”

This is the poem I wrote for the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce Asian American Business Council’s annual Lunar New Year luncheon. I was born in the year of the rat, and while doing my research for this poem, discovered that I share that Chinese Zodiac sign with President Noynoy Aquino of the Philippines. I understood from my research that 1960 was a “metal” year, making me a “metal rat.” However, I met a lovely woman at the luncheon, Mei Huey Huang, the Editor-in-Chief of the World Journal, who explained that in Chinese, the “metal” would certainly be “gold” — suggesting that President Aquino and I are indeed “golden rats.” I’ll have to write another poem about that. (You can read about the photo on the Santa Clara County Library’s Facebook page.)

Prayer for the Year of the Horse

for President Noynoy Aquino of the Philippines and me

Stay away from stress.
Don’t dress unconventionally.
Praise a horse when you see one,
praise his haughty neck or humble head.

Watch out for sharp objects.
Your mettle will be tested,
but knife wielding can cut both ways.

Wear green or brown,
the lucky colors of California hills.
But keep your hand on your dance partner,
your grip may slip
on the handle of romance.

Above all keep your ratty nose down,
whiskers twitching with keen sense.
Horses have beauty and speed, it’s true,
but you can escape under the fence.

In honor of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce
Lunar New Year Luncheon

February 14, 2014
© Jennifer Swanton Brown

Prompt #16 : Year of the Horse

Chinese New Year is here. Everywhere I go in Cupertino I can see the signs. The nail shop had a lovely tree with yellow flowers and red & gold paper money envelopes hanging all over it. There were gorgeous yellow chrysanthemums* in pots decorated with red and gold bows. My realtor sent us a shiny gold envelope, decorated with red Chinese calligraphy, containing a crisp single dollar bill. She wishes us Gung Hay Fat Choy!


There are many many people in Cupertino who can tell you more about this holiday than I can; I’m not an expert, not even a little bit knowledgeable. I know that I was born in the year of the rat, and furthermore that I’m a metal rat (1960).  Anyone born this year will be born in the year of the wood horse (2014). I’m not a great believer in astrology, but I love symbol and image, I love tradition and color and storytelling and celebrations. So, to celebrate Chinese New Year, I’m going to write a poem to a horse.

There are many poems in English about horses.

  • This one, “Horse Horse Hyphen Hyphen” by Marilyn Chin (a Chinese American poet from Hong Kong and Portland OR), speaks wildly about Chinese zodiac, custom, sex, disappointment and family.
  • There is an entire genre of “horse haiku” written by horseback riding enthusiasts — most of it not great haiku and not remotely Japanese.
  • This 2008 essay “Horses and Poetry” discusses poetry about horses and includes a lovely Chinese painting with poem from the Tang Dynasty. chinese horse poem
  • This site presents wonderful translations of multiple Chinese poets into English by the great and wonderful Kenneth Rexroth. I particularly like “Jade Flower Palace” by Tu Fu, which includes this image:

A stone horse is left of his

So, your challenge this month is to write a poem about a horse, or if you’re feeling energetic, to look up your Chinese zodiac sign and write about that. Have fun. And I wish you health, happiness, success and good fortune in the new year.

*The chrysanthemum is one of the “Four Gentlemen” (四君子) of China (the others being the plum blossom, the orchid, and bamboo). The chrysanthemum is said to have been favored by Tao Qian, an influential Chinese poet, and is symbolic of nobility. It is also one of the four symbolic seasonal flowers. (Quoted from Wikipedia. Please comment if you know more about this, or if it is incorrect.)