New Pony

Introduction

On one level the song is a story of guilt and redemption. A girl, Miss X, shoots her pony following its breaking a leg. She acquires a replacement pony but is overcome with feelings of guilt for what she did to the original. Her guilt is accompanied by fear, which in turn becomes the instrument of her reform.  This reform is made apparent  by her declaration of love for the replacement pony. The replacement pony can even be seen as the dead pony having returned thus enabling the girl to turn back the clock and begin again.

On another level things are more straightforward. Rather than there being a replacement pony, there is just the one which gets shot.  On this view the second, third and final verses are flashbacks to a time before the shooting, and there’s no happy ending. The girl thinks she’s bewitched, and ends up racked with guilt and fear.

It’s not the case that we need to choose between the interpretations. Both are valid and equally so. But each is consistent with a different outcome for the girl.

The narrator in the majority of verses is Miss X.  Verse two, however, although it can be Miss X referring to the pony, can also be taken as the thoughts of the original pony prior to its being shot. And verse four (which is not included on Street Legal) can be interpreted as either from this pony’s perspective, or from the girl’s.

The meaning will vary considerably depending on which narrator is deemed to be involved.


Miss X

Miss X, the pony’s owner, is the main focus of attention. Her character is shown to be complex, and in keeping both with her feelings of guilt and possible redemption.

There are two sides to her. On the surface she seems humane and caring. She claims to have suffered as a result of her pony’s being put down. She’s seems appreciative of her replacement pony’s skills and appearance, and at the end she claims to love her pony.

The first verse alone, however, makes it clear that all is not what it seems. Striving to create a favourable impression, her words do little more than betray the guilt she’s trying to hide:

‘She broke a leg and she needed shooting’

Straightaway, under no pressure, she’s unaccountably making an excuse for the pony’s death. Furthermore, her manner of doing so is itself cause for suspicion.  Why say ‘she needed shooting? It puts the blame on the pony, unlike, say, the more natural sounding ‘the only option was to have her put down ‘.  And why ‘she needed shooting‘ ? It seems odd to specify the method, especially when the girl expects us to believe she found the episode distressing.

In fact it’s not clear at all that she really did find it distressing. We only have her word for it:

‘I swear it hurt me more than it could ever have hurted her’

Why should we believe her? Like the original excuse, the announcement is gratuitous, unprovoked. It seems not so much an expression of pain as a means of averting criticism – criticism which, for all we know, might be justified. And why, one wonders, was it necessary to swear to the amount of pain? It clearly implies the girl expects to be disbelieved. And this in turn suggests that there might be good reason to disbelieve her.

The same announcement seems designed to give the impression that the pony’s suffering can’t have been excessive. Contrasting the pony’s suffering with the girl’s seems like a ploy to make light of it. One’s tempted to think that if the pony’s pain hadn’t been unduly severe, there’d have been no need for the girl to bother insisting that she herself had been hurt more.

Clearly Miss X is protesting too much.

If the second verse is taken to represent the pony’s thoughts about the girl, we have further reason to doubt Miss X’s character. While the pony seems determined to put her in the best possible light, referring to her as ‘poor girl’ and giving her the benefit of a ‘sweet disposition’, it nevertheless lets us know she’s disturbingly unpredictable:

‘I never know what the poor girl’s gonna do to me next’

The pony may even be anticipating its fate at her hands.

The real reason for the pony’s death becomes apparent in the third verse.  Here Miss X is presented as taking excessive pleasure in the pony’s abilities and appearance. In fact she seems particularly fixated on anything to do with its gait:

‘… she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace’
She got great big hind legs’

Accordingly, when the pony breaks its leg, it ceases to interest the girl. Finding too little to recommend it, her response is to have it shot.


Guilt:

The girl is scared. Her fear starts in verse four. It’s not a replacement pony she’s addressing, but the original returning from the dead in order, she assumes, to exact revenge:

‘ … I seen your shadow in the door
Now I don’t have to ask nobody
I know what you come here for’

She jumps to the conclusion that a mysterious form of black magic is being used to punish her:

‘They say you’re using voodoo, your feet walk by themselves
They say you’re using voodoo, I seen your feet walk by themselves’

That she’s suffering from a hallucination caused by guilt is made obvious by the absurdity of her claim in verse five to have seen the pony’s feet ‘walk by themselves’. That the pony’s skills should be in evidence without the pony being there to demonstrate them, is in one way as absurd as the Cheshire Cat’s grin surviving the Cheshire Cat. But in another it’s poetic justice – an appropriate punishment for the girl’s having valued the pony’s walking skills above the pony itself.

It’s significant that in the lines quoted above, Miss X begins by reporting a rumour, but then claims to have had first-hand experience:

 ‘They say you’re using voodoo …’

gives way to

I seen your feet walk by themselves’

Given her need to refer to rumour, that she’s seen this bizarre event with her own eyes seems implausible. What’s actually the case is that her feeling of guilt is so strong that she’ll believe anything which seems to corroborate it. Like Macbeth after the death of Banquo, she convinces  herself she’s being haunted by an avenging ghost. As she despairingly puts it to herself:

‘Oh, baby, that god you been praying to
Is gonna give ya back what you’re wishing on someone else’

Whether or not she realises it, the god she’s been serving is herself. And now her own conscience is paying her back.

Unlike Macbeth, however, the girl can be taken as responding to her shock, and her sense of guilt, by an apparent change of heart. At least this is so if her ‘But I love you’, in the final verse, is taken at face value.


Redemption

Although Miss X’s guilt causes her to assume the pony has come back to haunt her, there is another way of interpreting events. According to this the new pony of verse three, in addition to being a replacement for the dead original, is the dead original in resurrected form. As such it is implicitly being identified with Christ. In declaring her love for the Christ-pony Miss X is able to make amends, literally. Since the new pony is the resurrected original, a refusal to mistreat the new pony will be a refusal to mistreat the original.

That the new pony is in fact one and the same with the old one is supported by an inconsistency  in the use of tenses in verse four:

‘Well now, it was early in the morning, I seen your shadow in the door

Now, I don’t have to ask nobody
I know what you come here for’

The past tense used in the first line suggests the pony is remembering how Miss X arrived under cover of darkness to shoot it. The final two lines, however, are in the present tense. This tells us that Miss X is now in the doorway, just as she had been on the previous, fatal occasion. Further, the use of ‘now’ in both the first and third lines (‘Well now…’/’Now I don’t …’) serves to conflate the past and the present so that they become one. Whereas in the past the girl had ‘come here’ to shoot the pony,  in the present it’s to express her love for it – as we discover in the final verse. Given the identity of the two times, the earlier and later arrival of the girl in the doorway, there can only have been one outcome. If the girl is expressing her love for the pony, then there never was a shooting.*


Spiritual Death

While the expression of love for the pony in the final verse might seem to have clinched Miss X’s redemption, her choice of wording makes it far from certain:

‘But I love you, yes I do’

Once again she’s protesting too much. The addition of ‘yes I do’, rather than simply reinforcing the sentiment being expressed, has the unwanted effect of implying that it needs reinforcing. And that casts some doubt on the veracity of her claim.

That she might be bypassing the chance of redemption becomes even clearer if the pony in the final verse is taken to be the original pony, for then the incident it alludes to must be a flashback to a time before its death. And at that stage, the girl clearly does not love the pony.

Furthermore, the phrase ‘one time’ in the girl’s exhortation:

‘Come over here pony, I wanna climb up one time on you’

would mean ‘one more time’ – that is ‘one more time before I shoot you’! If all she wants to do is exploit the pony before killing it, then there’s no love – and no redemption.


Identity Of  Pony And Girl

On the happier interpretation, not only has the pony acquired new life through its resurrection, and through the girl’s change of heart, but so has the girl by way of spiritual renewal. This might suggests that the pony and the girl are in some sense identical; the pony brings about the girl’s salvation by providing her with a second chance, yet the girl brings about her own salvation by seizing the chance.

Their identity is further corroborated in a number of ways.

First, the pony has some of Miss X’s moral qualities. It too has a ‘sweet disposition’ as is shown when it generously refers to Miss X as the ‘poor girl’, and in its just accepting its fate calmly without any hint of recrimination:

‘Now I don’t have to ask nobody
I know what you come here for’

Secondly there’s the fact that the fourth verse can be seen as being the words of both the girl and the pony. It could be the girl expecting revenge, and it could be the pony anticipating death.

Thirdly, the pony is described by the girl in language with human, sexual connotations:

‘She got great big hind legs,
And long black shaggy hair above her face’.

Combined with the fact that the girl is Miss X, a name which likewise has sexual connotations (Miss Sex), this makes us identify the pony and the girl. Added to that is the fact that its fox-trotting ability is something one would more usually expect to find in a human being.

Fourthly, the lines:

‘Oh, baby, that god you been praying to
Is gonna give ya back what you’re wishing on someone else’

can equally be applied to both. They can be the girl addressing herself in words which serve to spur her reform, or the girl warning the pony that its dabbling in voodoo will rebound on itself. In her mind, the pony which started out as Lucifer has become an avenging demon.

In addition, both the girl and the pony are female.

And finally, both verses two and four can be seen as from either the pony’s or the girl’s perspective which helps to suggest they’re the same.

If the two are in a sense identical, this suggests a number of things. It confirms that the pony’s suffering is just as much the girl’s suffering, despite what she assured us. And it enables the death she inflicts on the pony to be her own spiritual death. But there again, if the pony is resurrected then, by virtue of their identity, so is she.


Conclusion

The song is about human frailty and potential . Frailty is represented by the reprehensible behaviour of the protagonist, Miss X, who in consequence faces spiritual death, and potential is that same protagonist’s capacity for redemption. Because much of the song is open to a range of interpretations, there is no clear outcome for her. We’re left with the impression, as in real life, that things could go either way.

The lack of a particular resolution is made plausible by giving the protagonist a suitably doubtful character. This comes across in two ways. First her pony’s thoughts provide us with an ambivalent view of her, and secondly we can make judgments based on what she says, particularly if we’re prepared to read between the lines. Without meaning to, she lets on that she’s less upright than she’d like us to believe, and has reason to be so consumed by feelings of guilt that she thinks the dead pony has returned to punish her.

The different, but non-mutually exclusive, interpretations open to us are made possible through various techniques. These include the order of events not necessarily matching the order of the verses, the narrator of some verses not being restricted to one character rather than another, and the inconsistent use of tenses to give the impression that present actions can undo the moral failings of the past. At the same time the identity of the girl and her pony allows the death or the resurrection of the one to be the spiritual death or spiritual resurrection of the other.

*The Street Legal version omits this verse. Instead a female chorus repeatedly sing variants of the question ‘How much longer?’.

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2 thoughts on “New Pony

  1. no…. along the line of milk cow blues, etc… this is a sexual song…. the pony are females… he got rid of one (Miss X) and now has another and he is rubbing that fact in her face….
    “….I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
    Well, I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
    She got great big hind legs
    And long black shaggy hair above her face…”
    Miss X is so bad, he considers her witch-like, using voodoo.
    but, he’s got a new pony and its all about sex.
    “…Come over here pony, I, I wanna climb up one time on you
    Come over here pony, I, I wanna climb up one time on you
    Well, you’re so bad and nasty
    But I love you, yes I do…”
    YOU OVER-THOUGHT THIS ONE…..

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  2. Thanks for commenting Mad Russian. Yes, I agree – but only up to a point to a point. There is a lot of sexual imagery in the song and quite clearly the ponies (assuming two) can be seen as metaphors for women, and the narrator as a rather self-centred, sexist man. It’s quite difficult, though, to make that interpretation fit everything. There would be a lot of superfluous content. For example, while the voodoo reference might be to do with what the narrator sees as the woman’s sexual wiles, it’s difficult to see how ‘your feet walk by themselves’ would apply to a woman, however wiley. Even though the interpretation you’re suggesting might well be valid, there still seems to be plenty in favour of the ones I’ve given.

    Like

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