The Hunting of the Stag


There was a stag did in the forest lie,
Whose neck was long, whose horns were2 branched up high.
His haunch was broad, sides large, and back was long;
His legs were nervous, and his joints were strong.
His hair lay sleek and smooth; he was so fair,3                     5
None in the forest might with him compare.4
In summer’s heat he in cool brakes him lay,5
Which, being high, did keep the sun away;6
In evenings cool and7 dewy mornings new8
Would he rise up,9 and all the forest view.10                          10
Then walking to some clear and crystal brook,11
Not for to drink, but on his horns to look,
Taking such pleasure in his stately crown,
His pride forgot12 that dogs might pull him down.
From thence he to13 a shady wood did go,                             15
Where straightest pines and tallest cedars grow;
And upright olives, which th’loving vine oft twines;14
And slender birch bows head15 to golden mines;16
Small aspen stalk which shakes like agues cold,
That from perpetual motion never hold;                                20
The sturdy oak which on the seas17 doth ride;
Fir, which tall masts doth make, where sails are tied;
The weeping maple; and the poplar green,
Whose cooling buds in salves have healing been;
The fatting18 chestnut; and the hazel small;                          25
The smooth-rind beech, which groweth large and tall;
The loving myrtle fit for19 amorous kind;
The yielding willow, for20 inconstant mind;
The cypress sad, which makes the funeral hearse;
And sycamores, where lovers write their verse;                  30
And juniper, which gives a pleasant smell;
And21 many more, which were too long to tell.
Round22 from their sappy roots sprout branches small;
Some call it underwood, that’s never tall.
There walking through, the stag was hindered much;        35
The bending twigs his horns did often touch.23
While he on24 tender leaves and buds did browse,
His eyes were troubled with the broken boughs.
Then straight he sought25 this labyrinth to26 unwind,
But27 hard it was his first way out to find.                             40
Unto this wood a rising hill was near;28
The sweet wild thyme and marjoram grew there,29
And winter sav’ry,30 which was never set,
Of31 which the stag took great delight32 to eat.
But looking down upon33 the valleys low,                             45
He saw there34 grass and cowslips thick did35 grow,
And springs, which digged36 themselves a passage out,
Much like as serpents wind each field about,
Rising in winter high, do37 overflow
The flow’ry banks, but make38 the soil to39 grow.                50
And40 as he went, thinking therein to feed,
He ’spied41 a field which sowed was with wheat seed.
The blades were grown a handful high and more,
Which sight to42 taste did soon invite him o’er.
In haste he went, fed43 full, then down did lie;44                 55
The owner, coming there, did him espy,45
Straight called his dogs to hunt him from that place;
At last it came46 to be a forest chase.
The chase grew hot; the stag apace did run;
Dogs followed close, and men for sport did come.47            60
At last a troop of men, horse, dogs did meet,
Which made the hart to try his nimble feet.
Full swift he was; his horns he bore up high;
The48 men did shout; the dogs ran yelping by.
And bugle horns with several notes did blow;                      65
Huntsmen to cross the stag did sideways go.
The horses beat their hooves against dry ground,
Raising such clouds of dust, their ways scarce found.
Their sides ran down with sweat, as if they were
New come from wat’ring,49 dropping50 every hair.             70
The dogs, their tongues out of their mouths hung long;
Their sides did like a feverish pulse beat strong;51
Their short ribs heaved52 up high, then fell down53 low,
As bellows draw in wind that they may54 blow.
Men tawny grew; the sun their skins did turn;                     75
Their mouths were dry; their bowels felt to burn.
The stag, so hot as coals when kindled through,55
Yet swiftly ran when he the dogs did view.56
Coming at length unto a river’s side,
Whose current flowed as with a falling tide,                         80
There he leaped in, thinking some while to stay57
To wash his sides, his burning heat t’allay,58
Hoping59 the dogs could not in water60 swim,
But was61 deceived: the dogs do enter in.62
Like fishes, tried to swim in water low,63                               85
But64 out, alas, his horns too high did show.65
The66 dogs were covered over head and ears;67
No part is seen, only their nose appears.68
The stag and river like a race did show,
He striving still the river69 to outgo,                                        90
Whilst men and horses down the banks did run,70
Encouraging the dogs to follow on,
Where in the water,71 like a looking-glass,
He by reflection saw72 their shadows pass.
Fear did his breath cut73 short; his limbs did74 shrink        95
Like those the cramp75 makes to th’bottom76 sink.
Thus out of breath, no longer could he stay,
But leaped77 on land and swiftly ran78 away.
Change gave him79 ease, ease strength; in strength hope lives;
Hope joys the heart, and joy light heels80 still gives.81        100
His feet did like82 a feathered arrow fly,83
Or like a wingèd bird, that mounts the sky.84
The dogs, like ships that sail with wind and tide,
Which85 cut the air, and waters deep divide,
Or like as greedy merchants, which for gain86                     105
Venture their life, and traffic on the main.87
The hunters, like to boys which, without fear,88
To see a sight will hazard life that’s dear,89
Which sad become90 when mischief takes not91 place,
And92 out of countenance, as with disgrace,                         110
But when they see a ruin and a fall,
Return93 with joy, as if they’d conquered94 all.
And thus did their three several passions meet:95
First the desire to catch the dogs made fleet,96
Then fear the stag made97 run, his life to save,                    115
Whilst men for love of mischief digged98 his grave.
The angry dust flew in each face about,99
As if ’twould with revenge their eyes put out,100
Yet they all101 fast went on with a huge cry.102
The stag no hope had left, nor help did ’spy;103                    120
His heart so heavy grew with grief and care,
That his small feet his body scarce could104 bear.
Yet loath to die or yield to foes was he,
And105 to the last would strive for victory.
’Twas not for want of courage he did run,                             125
But that an army against one did come.106
Had he the valor of bold Caesar107 stout,
Yet yield he must108 to them, or die no doubt.
Turning his head, as if he dared their spite,
Prepared himself against them all to fight.                            130
Single he was; his horns were all his helps
To guard him from a multitude of whelps.
Besides, a company of men were there,
If dogs should fail, to strike him everywhere.
But to the last his fortune he’d109 try out;                               135
Then men and dogs did110 circle him about.
Some bit; some barked; all plied111 him at the bay,
Where with his horns he tossèd112 some away.
But Fate his thread had spun; he113 down did fall,
Shedding some tears at his own funeral.                                140

  1. the Stag] a Stag. 1664; a Stagg. 1668
  2. whose horns were] and Hornes 1653
  3. he was so fair,] upon his Skin, 1653
  4. with him compare.] compare with him. 1653
  5. lay,] laies, 1653
  6. being high, did keep the sun away;] grew so high, kept of the Suns hot Raies. 1653
  7. and] or 1653
  8. new] he 1664, 1668
  9. he rise up,] early Rise 1664; early rise, 1668
  10. view.] see; 1664; see. 1668
  11. Then walking to some clear and crystal brook,] Then was he Walking to some Crystal brook, 1664; Then was he walking to some Crystal Brook, 1668
  12. forgot] forgets 1653
  13. he to] unto 1653
  14. And upright olives, which th’loving vine oft twines;] Olives upright, imbrac’d by th’ Loving Vines, 1664; Olives upright, embrac’d by th’ loving Vines; 1668
  15. And slender birch bows head] Birches which bow their Heads 1664; Birches, which bow their Heads 1668
  16. A marginal note by line 18 reads, “Good mines are found out by the birches bowing.” In 1664 and 1668 the quote starts “Golden mines” instead of “Good mines.”
  17. which on the seas] on Foamy Seas 1653
  18. fatting] fatning 1668
  19. fit for] is for 1653
  20. for] as 1653
  21. And] With 1664, 1668
  22. Round] Which 1664; Which, 1668
  23. did often touch.] would often catch. 1653
  24. he on] on the 1653
  25. sought] seeks 1653
  26. to] t’ 1664, 1668
  27. But] Though 1664, 1668
  28. was near;] did joyne, 1653
  29. The sweet wild thyme and marjoram grew there,] Where grew wild Margerom, and sweet wild Time: 1653
  30. sav’ry] savory 1653
  31. Of] On 1653
  32. took great delight] delighted much 1653
  33. upon] into 1664, 1668
  34. He saw there] He sees the 1653
  35. did] to 1653
  36. digged] dig 1653
  37. do] they’ld 1664, 1668
  38. make] rich 1653
  39. to grow.] doth grow. 1653
  40. And as] So as 1653
  41. ’spied] saw 1653
  42. to] his 1653
  43. he went, fed] goes on, feeds 1653
  44. did lie;] he lies, 1653
  45. did him espy,] he soon espies: 1653
  46. came] prov’d 1664, 1668
  47. Dogs followed close, and men for sport did come.] The Dogs pursu’d, more Men for Sport came on; 1664; The Doggs pursu’d, more men for Sport came on. 1668
  48. The] Then 1653
  49. wat’ring,] Watering, 1664
  50. dropping] so dropt 1664, 1668
  51. like a feverish pulse beat strong;] beat like Feaverish Pulse so strong. 1653
  52. heaved] heave 1653
  53. then fell down] then fall downe 1653; and then fell 1664, 1668
  54. that they may] the same to 1653
  55. coals when kindled through,] glowing Coals may be, 1664; glowing Coals may be; 1668
  56. view.] see. 1664, 1668
  57. There he leaped in, thinking some while to stay] Where he leapes in to quench his scortching heat, 1653
  58. his burning heat t’allay,] to coole his burning Feet. 1653
  59. Hoping] In hope 1664, 1668
  60. could not in water] in water could not 1653
  61. was] hee’s 1653
  62. the dogs do enter in.] for they did follow him 1664, 1668
  63. tried to swim in water low,] which do Swim in Waters deep; 1664 which do swim in Waters deep, 1668
  64. But] He Duck’d, but 1664; He duck’d; but 1668
  65. too high did show.] too high do shew. 1653; did Peep; 1664; did peep: 1668
  66. The] When 1653
  67. ears;] Ear, 1664; Ear; 1668
  68. No part is seen, only their nose appears.] Nothing did of them but their Nose appear; 1664; Nothing did of them, but their Nose, appear. 1668
  69. river] swift River 1653
  70. down the banks did run,] ran the Banks along, 1653
  71. in the water,] he on waters, 1653
  72. He by reflection saw] By a Reflection sees 1653
  73. did his breath cut] cuts his Breath off 1653
  74. did] do 1653
  75. the cramp] which the Cramp 1664; which th’ Cramp 1668
  76. makes to th’bottom] doth take, to bottom 1653
  77. leaped] leapes 1653
  78. ran] runs 1653; run 1664, 1668
  79. Change gave him] For Change brings 1664; (For, Change brings 1668
  80. and joy light heels] or light Heele joy 1653
  81. gives.] gives.) 1668,
  82. did like] like to 1653
  83. fly,] flies, 1653
  84. sky.] Skies. 1653
  85. Which] Do 1664, 1668
  86. as greedy merchants, which for gain] a greedy Merchant, seeks for Gaine, 1653
  87. Venture their life, and traffic on the main.] Will venture Life, so trafficks on the Maine. 1653
  88. which, without fear,] no dangers shun, 1653
  89. hazard life that’s dear,] venture Life, and Limb. 1653
  90. Which sad become] For they are Sad 1664; For they are sad, 1668
  91. not] no 1664, 1668
  92. And] Is 1653
  93. Return] They come 1664, 1668
  94. if they’d conquered] Conquerors they were 1653
  95. And thus did their three several passions meet:] Thus their severall Passions their waies did meet, 1653
  96. First the desire to catch the dogs made fleet,] As Dogs desire to catch did make them Fleet. 1653
  97. Then fear the stag made] The Stag with feare did 1653
  98. digged] dig 1653
  99. flew in each face about,] in every Face up flies, 1653
  100. As if ’twould with revenge their eyes put out,] As with Revenge, seeks to put out their Eies. 1653
  101. all] so 1653
  102. a huge cry.] such loud Cries, 1653
  103. did ’spy;] espies: 1653
  104. scarce could] could not 1653
  105. And] But 1653
  106. against one did come.] was ’gainst him alone; 1664; was ’gainst him alone: 1668
  107. of bold Caesar] of bold Caear 1653; had of Caesar 1664; had of Cesar 1668
  108. Yet yield he must] Must yield himselfe 1653
  109. he’d] hee’ll 1653
  110. did] do 1653
  111. Some bit; some barked; all plied] Some bite, some bark, all ply 1653
  112. tossèd] tosses 1653
  113. he] so 1653