The Hunting of the Hare

Betwixt two Ridges of Plowd-land, lay Wat
Pressing his Body close to Earth lay squat.
His Nose upon his two Fore-feet close lies
Glaring obliquely with his great gray Eyes.
His Head he alwaies sets against the Wind;
If turne his Taile, his Haires blow up behind:
Which he too cold will grow, but he is wise,
And keeps his Coat still downe, so warm he lies.
Thus resting all the day, till Sun doth set
Then riseth up, his Reliefe for to get.
Walking about untill the Sun doth rise
Then back returnes, down in his Forme he lyes.
At last, Poore Wat was found, as he there lay
By Hunts-men, with their Dogs which came that way.
Seeing, gets up, and fast begins to run,
Hoping some waies the Cruell Dogs to shun.
But they by Nature have so quick a Sent,
That by their Nose they race, what way he went.
And with their deep, wide Mouths set forth a Cry,
Which answer’d was by Ecchoes in the Skie.
Then Wat was struck with Terrour, and with Feare,
Thinkes every Shadow still the Dogs they were.
And running out some distance from the noise,
To hide himselfe, his Thoughts he new imploies.
Under a Clod of Earth in Sand-pit wide,
Poore Wat sat close, hoping himselfe to hide.
There long he had not sat, but strait his Eares
The Winding Hornes, and crying Dogs he heares:
Starting with Feare, up leapes, then doth he run,
And with such speed, the Ground scarce treades upon.
Into a great thick Wood he strait way gets,
Where underneath a broken Bough he sits.
At every Leafe that with the wind did shake,
Did bring such Terrour, made his Heart to ake.
That Place he left, to Champion Plaines he went,
Winding about, for to deceive their Sent.
And while they snuffling were, to find his Track,
Poore Wat, being weary, his swift pace did slack.
On his two hinder legs for ease did sit,
His Fore-feet rub’d his Face from Dust, and Sweat.
Licking his Feet, he wip’d his Eares so cleane,
That none could tell that Wat had hunted been.
But casting round about his faire great Eyes,
The Hounds in full Careere he neere him ‘pies:
To Wat it was so terrible a Sight,
Feare gave him Wings, and made his Body light.
Though weary was before, by running long,
Yet now his Breath he never felt more strong.
Like those that dying are, think Health returnes,
When tis but a faint Blast, which Life out burnes.
For Spirits seek to guard the Heart about,
Striving with Death, but Death doth quench them out.
Thus they so fast came on, with such loud Cries,
That he no hopes hath left, no help espies.
With that the Winds did pity poore Wats case,
And with their Breath the Sent blew from the Place.
Then every Nose is busily imployed,
And every Nostrill is set open, wide:
And every Head doth seek a severall way,
To find what Grasse, or Track, the Sent on lay.
Thus quick Industry, that is not slack,
Is like to Witchery, brings lost things back.
For though the Wind had tied the Sent up close,
A Busie Dog thrust in his Snuffling Nose:
And drew it out, with it did foremost run,
Then Hornes blew loud, for th’ rest to follow on.
The great slow-Hounds, their throats did set a Base,
The Fleet swift Hounds, as Tenours next in place;
The little Beagles they a Trebble sing,
And through the Aire their Voice a round did ring.
Which made a Consort, as they ran along;
If they but words could speak, might sing a Song,
The Hornes kept time, the Hunters shout for Joy,
And valiant seeme, poore Wat for to destroy:
Spurring their Horses to a full Careere,
Swim Rivers deep, leap Ditches without feare;
Indanger Life, and Limbes, so fast will ride,
Onely to see how patiently Wat died.
For why, the Dogs so neere his Heeles did get,
That they their sharp Teeth in his Breech did set.
Then tumbling downe, did fall with weeping Eyes,
Gives up his Ghost, and thus poore Wat he dies.
Men hooping loud, such Acclamations make,
As if the Devill they did Prisoner take.
When they do but a shiftlesse Creature kill;
To hunt, there need no Valiant Souldiers skill.
But Man doth think that Exercise, and Toile,
To keep their Health, is best, which makes most spoile.
Thinking that Food, and Nourishment so good,
And Appetite, that feeds on Flesh, and blood.
When they do Lions, Wolves, Beares, Tigers see,
To kill poore Sheep, strait say, they cruell be.
But for themselves all Creatures think too few,
For Luxury, with God would make them new.
As if that God made Creatures for Mans meat,
To give them Life, and Sense, for Man to eat;
Or else for Sport, or Recreations sake,
Destroy those Lives that God saw good to make:
Making their Stomacks, Graves, which full they fill
With Murther’d Bodies, that in sport they kill.
Yet Man doth think himselfe so gentle, mild,
When he of Creatures is most cruell wild.
And is so Proud, thinks onely he shall live,
That God a God-like Nature did him give.
And that all Creatures for his sake alone,
Was made for him, to Tyrannize upon.

~ Margaret Cavendish, 1653

Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Photo Copyright Lauren DeVoe

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King Duffus

When all the witches were haled to the stake and burned,
When their least ashes were swept up and drowned,
King Duffus opened his eyes and looked round.

For half a year they had trussed him in their spell:
Parching, scorching, roaring, he was blackened as a coal.
Now he wept like a freshet in April.

Tears ran like quicksilver through his rocky beard.
Why have you wakened me, he said, with a clattering sword?
Why have you snatched me back from the green yard?

There I sat feasting under the cool linden shade;
The beer in the silver cup was ever renewed,
I was at peace there, I was well-bestowed:

My crown lay lightly on my brow as a clot of foam,
My wide mantle was yellow as the flower of the broom,
Hale and holy I was in mind and in limb.

I sat among poets and among philosophers,
Carving fat bacon for the mother of Christ;
Sometimes we sang, sometimes we conversed.

Why did you summon me back from the midst of that meal
To a vexed kingdom and a smoky hall?
Could I not stay at least until dewfall?

~Sylvia Townsend Warner

Dream Vision and “The Book of the Duchess”

If I haven’t mentioned it before now, I’m currently in graduate school working on my M.A. in English Literature. Of course my focus is on the Brits. This semester I’m taking a class on Later Medieval Dream Visions.

I was incredibly excited about this class and so far I have not been disappointed! If you’re unfamiliar with dream visions, they were (and are) a literary style where dreams are recounted for the benefit of the reader. People believed that these dream visions were sent to them from the divine and had important meaning that needed to be shared. Generally speaking they deal with quests for spiritual salvation or with unrequited love.

Usually a dream vision starts with the narrator telling about how they fell asleep. Once asleep, another important aspect of the dream vision is when the dreamer “wakes up” in the dream. The story of the dream itself is usually soaked in allegory. The dreamer will find a guide to walk them through the dream and help explain the message of the dream. The vision ends with the dreamer waking and promising to write the story down, hence the poem that is being read.

Before Christianity conquered Europe, the Celtic bards would sleep near a stream, believing that the spirit of the stream would give them a song or a vision of a song in their sleep. Some of the most famous dream visions are actually Welsh. The tradition of the dream vision is hundreds of years old and a highly favored medieval form of poetry.

Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy is one of the more famous of the dream visions. Boethius wrote it while he was in exile and describes his conversation with Lady Philosophy:

boethius-sm

Even so the clouds of my melancholy were broken up. I saw the clear sky, and regained the power to recognise the face of my physician. Accordingly, when I had lifted my eyes and fixed my gaze upon her, I beheld my nurse, Philosophy, whose halls I had frequented from my youth up.

‘Ah! why,’ I cried, ‘mistress of all excellence, hast thou come down from on high, and entered the solitude of this my exile? Is it that thou, too, even as I, mayst be persecuted with false accusations?’

‘Could I desert thee, child,’ said she, ‘and not lighten the burden which thou hast taken upon thee through the hatred of my name, by sharing this trouble? Even forgetting that it were not lawful for Philosophy to leave companionless the way of the innocent, should I, thinkest thou, fear to incur reproach, or shrink from it, as though some strange new thing had befallen? Thinkest thou that now, for the first time in an evil age, Wisdom hath been assailed by peril? Did I not often in days of old, before my servant Plato lived, wage stern warfare with the rashness of folly? In his lifetime, too, Socrates, his master, won with my aid the victory of an unjust death. And when, one after the other, the Epicurean herd, the Stoic, and the rest, each of them as far as in them lay, went about to seize the heritage he left, and were dragging me off protesting and resisting, as their booty, they tore in pieces the garment which I had woven with my own hands, and, clutching the torn pieces, went off, believing that the whole of me had passed into their possession. And some of them, because some traces of my vesture were seen upon them, were destroyed through the mistake of the lewd multitude, who falsely deemed them to be my disciples.

~From Song III – The Mists Dispelled

(If you would like to read the whole thing, you can find it here.)

Boethius had a huge influence on many medieval writers.

Bede was another famous dream visionary, as was Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and Dante (The Divine Comedy is one huge dream vision). Of course, one of the most famous was Chaucer.

Chaucer’s dream visions aren’t as well known as the Canterbury Tales, but I greatly prefer them.

“The Book of the Duchess” is one of my favorites. Chaucer wrote “The Book of the Duchess” for John Gaunt to memorialize Gaunt’s wife Blanche, who had died of the plague. While Chaucer wrote during the height of the courtly love tradition, it seems from the poem that John Gaunt might have truly loved his wife. This is one of Chaucer’s earliest works and it has been generally overlooked because of Chaucer’s youth when he wrote it. Chaucer was also a religious skeptic and one of the things that is extremely notable in the poem is that the Dreamer does not console the Knight he meets in his dream, who is mourning the death of Lady White, that she is safe in Heaven with God. The poem actually opens with a myth and an invocation to Juno and Morpheus.

The poem begins with the narrator recounting his insomnia of 8 long years. He decides to pick up a book of myths and reads the tale of Ceyx and Alcyone. Ceyx was a king who went on a journey, only to drown at sea. His wife, Alcyone, not knowing what happened to her husband, sent messengers everywhere searching for him. When no one could find out anything, she begged Juno to send her a dream vision of her husband’s fate. Juno does more than that. Juno sends for Morpheus to retrieve Ceyx’s body from the bottom of the ocean and then speak through him to his wife, letting her know that he was gone. The poet is inspired by the story and calls upon Juno and Morpheus to help him sleep.

I will return you to my original subject, the reason why I have told this story of Alcyone and Ceyx the king, for I dare say this much: I would have been entirely buried and dead, because of lack of sleep, if I had not read and heeded this tale. And I will tell you why: for I could not, for comfort or suffering, sleep before I had read this tale of this drowned Ceyx the king and of the gods of sleeping. When I had read this tale well and looked over every bit of, it seemed amazing to me that it would be so, for I had never heard mention before then of any gods that could make people sleep, nor to wake, for I had known only one god. 

And in my amusement I said then (and yet I had little desire to play) rather than I should so die through lack of sleep, I would give this Morpheus, or his goddess, Lady Juno, or some other creature, I care not who “Make me sleep and have some rest, and I will give him, or her, the best gift anyone ever hoped to receive. And into his possession, immediately, if he will make me sleep a little, I will give him a feather bed of down of pure white doves, arrayed with gold and finely covered in fine black satin from abroad, and many pillows, and every pillowcase of linen from Reynes, to sleep softly he will not need to toss and turn so often. And I will give him everything that belongs to a bedchamber, and all his rooms I will have painted with pure gold and arrayed with many matching tapestries. All this shall he have (if only I knew where his cave is) if he can make me sleep soon, as he did for the goddess, queen Alcyone. And thus this same god, Morpheus, may gain from me more rewards than he ever won; and to Juno, who is his goddess, I shall so do, I believe, whatever will please her.”

I had hardly said that word, exactly as I have told it to you, that suddenly, I know not how, such a desire overtook me to sleep that I fell asleep right on my book, and then I dreamed so inwardly sweet a dream, so wonderful a dream that I believe that no one has ever had the insight to interpret my dream correctly.

(I have to wonder if he followed through with his promises to Juno and Morpheus…?)

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File:Woodcut illustration of the goddess Juno as patron of marriage – Penn Provenance Project.jpg

In the vision, the Narrator, now the Dreamer, “wakes up” to hear birds singing. He hears the sounds of a hunt being called and rides out (on a horse that has apparently magically appeared in the chamber he has awoken in) to join the hunt. While on the hunt, he comes across a Black Knight composing lyrics about the death of a lady. When the Dreamer asks the Knight about the cause of his lament, the Knight replies that he has played a game of chess with Lady Fortuna and lost. The Dreamer begs the Knight not to be upset about the loss of a game of chess. The Knight goes on to explain his life and his service to Love and how he came to meet the fair Lady White. The Dreamer is somewhat obtuse and doesn’t understand that the chess game is a metaphor and that the Lady White is an actual lady. The Dreamer begs the Knight to continue with his tale. The Knight tells of how he fell in love and courted White, until at last, he finally won her and lived happily for many years. The Dreamer still doesn’t understand and asks the Knight where the Lady White is. The Knight finally replies that she is dead. The Knight rides off to a castle on a nearby hill and the poet awakes with his book in hand, promising that he will write the dream down.

“Sir,” I said, “where is she now?” 

“Now?” he said, and stopped at once. With that he grew as dead as stone and said, “Alas, that I was born! That was the loss that I told you before that I had lost. Remember how I said earlier, ‘You know full little what you mean by your words; I have lost more than you think.’ God knows, alas! She was that very person!”

“Alas, sir, how? How may that be?”

“She is dead!”

“No!”

“Yes, by my word!”

“Is that your loss? By God, that is such a pity!”

And with that word they quickly began to sound the hunting signal to head home; all the hart hunting was done for that time.

With that I thought that this king began to ride homeward to an adjacent place which was a short way from us a long castle with white walls, by Saint John, on a rich hill, so I dreamed; but thus it happened. I dreamed just as I tell you: in the castle there was a bell, and as it struck twelve, I awoke and found myself lying in my bed. And the book I had read, of Alcyone and Ceyx the king, and of the gods of sleep, I found wide open in my hand. I thought, “This is so strange a dream that I will, in the course of time, attempt to put this dream into rhyme as best I can, and do so soon.”

This was my dream; now it is done. 

Blanche of Lancaster

Blanche of Lancaster

There are many things that are interesting about the poem: the transitions of the narrator through the various dreams, the metaphor of the chess game, the comparison of black and white imagery, the Pagan mythology, the underlying sense that Chaucer is discussing religion, the Knight’s love of the Lady, the hart hunt, Chaucer’s understanding of mourning and his use of the Dreamer to actually get the Knight to express his grief…

But in the end, I just enjoy the poem. While John of Gaunt mourned for Blanche, he did remarry. Queen Elizabeth the Second is a descendant. But Blanche was forever immortalized by Chaucer in this very fitting tribute.

If you would like to read the full poem, you can find the translation here.

If you’re brave, the poem in its original Middle English can be found here.

Also, did you know that Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? I certainly didn’t!

Tyger, Tyger

Meanwhile, at the library…

I had bought some comic books for one of our endowed funds. When the vendor (who also happened to be the author) sent me the items I had ordered, she also sent me some postcards advertising her website. One of them was:

Which I found to be absolutely hysterical. No one else did, but then I have a weird sense of humor.

Of course, this postcard is referencing William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience and in particular, the poem “The Tyger.”

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

1794

This poem is talking about the beauty and the power found in the act of creation. Blake is questioning the creator’s ability to continue creating when the horrible beauty of the thing being created begins appearing. The Tiger is beautiful, it is also fierce and terrifying.

While Blake addresses the Tiger, he is clearly trying to discern who the creator is. The “primal ferocity” of the tiger shows that whoever created it is not a particularly benevolent deity. Blake openly questions whether the Christian God could have been the one to create such a being, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” The tiger is a reflection of it’s creator and Blake doesn’t necessarily believe that the Christian God could have made something this terrible.

This has always been one of my favorite poems and while Blake’s work focuses within Christian theology, he was one of those early existentialists who questioned how evil came into the world. This poem is wondering about how “beauty and horror” can exist side by side. To me, the Tiger is not in any way evil, since evil is not something that comes to us from the natural world. The Tiger simply embraces it’s innate power as a carnivorous hunter. Those who are weaker are forced to bow before its capabilities. This is a power in and of itself and is the horror of surviving in a hard world.

But for me, this poem also sums up the magic inherent in creation. Magic is both horrible and beautiful. In the midst of the act of the creation of anything, the thing that is created will always carry something of you, the creator, no matter what your intent in it’s creation was.

At the end of the poem, Blake asks what hammer and anvil created the tiger. I believe that this is the the forge of the gods, the place from where we occasionally find drips and drabs of their leftover power to tap into for our own workings. Blake is clearly wondering about the responsibility of creation and of the power of personal will in creating the Tiger. This is something that I, as a witch, certainly have to question before any magical working I do.

It’s often easy to forget about the power inherent in the forces we work with in Circle (or outside of it). When I step Between the Worlds and call on the spirits, the gods and the land around me to create something new, this place where the Tiger was created is what I am tapping into. The awe and the respect of the fearsomeness of this work is something that we should never lose.

As a witch, I am this dreadful hand.

It is important to never lose sight of that, but also to embrace it with every inch of our beings. It is only through doing so that we light that spark within us and add it to the spark of creation to create our own Tigers.

I don’t think that I could ever personally create something as awe inspiring as the Tiger, that is certainly the work of the gods. But the things I do create will reflect everything I am. And by casting a Circle and starting a ritual, I grasp my will to build my own forge to create something new, which are the powers that I, as a witch, lay claim to.

Blake may not have been a practitioner himself, but he certainly understood how closely the act of creating art reflected what the gods did when they created the world.

So dare to clasp deadly terrors whenever you begin something new, whether it be art or magic. Understand that being a creator of anything is a powerful responsibility. Even things manifested to exist in this physical world can at the end, possibly eat you alive.

Fall Fades Into Winter

I came across this poem tonight and thought it was appropriate for this time of year.

Persephone or, Why the Winters Seem to Be Getting Longer

by Wendy Froud

Six pomegranate seeds, as red as rubies, like on a golden plate. They glow with crimson fire in the candlelight. My lord bids me eat. I can feel his hands upon my shoulders. I can feel his breath hot upon my neck. I eat the first fruit, and as I taste, my lord tastes the skin of my throat, where the scent of flowers still lingers.

In the world above, the daylight fades. The wind blows cold among the trees.

The second seed is eaten, and my lord kneels at my feet. His hands reach for my breasts, and through the fabric of my gown I feel his caress, first soft, then hard. I watch my nipples rise then strain against the thin gold silk. He takes a small knife away from the table and, holding it delicately, cuts through the neckline of my dress. The fabric tears, parting from white flesh, and falls away.

In the world above, as night draws close, the grasses turn in the wind. Flowers bend. Petals fall.

My nipples are the color of crimson seeds. The third seed is upon my lips as my lord suckles at my breasts, tracing circles of fire with his tongue. They ripen like fruit beneath his kisses.

The world above is dark. The trees are black and bare. Creatures shiver, and shelter where they may.

My lord explores my body, kissing, biting, tasting the length of me. I need to see him. He will not undress. He will not let me touch him. I know that he is beautiful; I can feel that beauty as my body lifts to press itself against him. Naked now, my thighs tremble and open. The fourth seed is eaten.

In the world above, frost traces white patterns on brown leaves. The last of the summer fruit returns to the soil beneath the sleeping trees.

I catch my breath as my dark lord parts my thighs. His fingers touch me, there, gliding on the juices of my passion. His tongue, questing, thirsts for me, tasting me even as I taste the fifth seed upon my tongue.

The world above lies dormant, frozen. A creature caught by the cold, harsh air curls and sleeps, stiffens and dies.

He looks into my eyes, my lord, and slowly unlaces the robe he wears to taunt and tempt me. It falls to the ground. He stands before me, proud manhood beautiful. I long to take him in my mouth, to close my lips around that hot, strong flesh, taste the milky jewel glistening at its tip. He smiles as he puts instead the sixth seed to my lips. He gathers me to him; I twine my legs around his waist and open to his manhood. It thrusts deeper and deeper, taking me further into my dark lord’s dark realm. The last seed bursts cool upon my tongue as my lord’s seed bursts hot within my body.

The world above lies still as death, waiting for the spring to come. Hollow promise. Who can know how hard that promise is to keep?

I have always loved the taste of pomegranates.

Image Persephone by Silvereyed

You can find this poem here, and many others here.