There was a stag did in the forest lie,
Whose neck was long, whose horns were 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, 5
None in the forest might with him compare.
In summer’s heat he in cool brakes him lay,
Which, being high, did keep the sun away;
In evenings cool and dewy mornings new
Would he rise up, and all the forest view. 10
Then walking to some clear and crystal brook,
Not for to drink, but on his horns to look,
Taking such pleasure in his stately crown,
His pride forgot that dogs might pull him down.
From thence he to a shady wood did go, 15
Where straightest pines and tallest cedars grow;
And upright olives, which th’loving vine oft twines;
And slender birch bows head to golden mines;
Small aspen stalk which shakes like agues cold,
That from perpetual motion never hold; 20
The sturdy oak which on the seas 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 fatting chestnut; and the hazel small; 25
The smooth-rind beech, which groweth large and tall;
The loving myrtle fit for amorous kind;
The yielding willow, for 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;
And many more, which were too long to tell.
Round 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.
While he on tender leaves and buds did browse,
His eyes were troubled with the broken boughs.
Then straight he sought this labyrinth to unwind,
But hard it was his first way out to find. 40
Unto this wood a rising hill was near;
The sweet wild thyme and marjoram grew there,
And winter sav’ry, which was never set,
Of which the stag took great delight to eat.
But looking down upon the valleys low, 45
He saw there grass and cowslips thick did grow,
And springs, which digged themselves a passage out,
Much like as serpents wind each field about,
Rising in winter high, do overflow
The flow’ry banks, but make the soil to grow. 50
And as he went, thinking therein to feed,
He ’spied a field which sowed was with wheat seed.
The blades were grown a handful high and more,
Which sight to taste did soon invite him o’er.
In haste he went, fed full, then down did lie; 55
The owner, coming there, did him espy,
Straight called his dogs to hunt him from that place;
At last it came to be a forest chase.
The chase grew hot; the stag apace did run;
Dogs followed close, and men for sport did come. 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;
The 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, dropping every hair. 70
The dogs, their tongues out of their mouths hung long;
Their sides did like a feverish pulse beat strong;
Their short ribs heaved up high, then fell down low,
As bellows draw in wind that they may 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,
Yet swiftly ran when he the dogs did view.
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 stay
To wash his sides, his burning heat t’allay,
Hoping the dogs could not in water swim,
But was deceived: the dogs do enter in.
Like fishes, tried to swim in water low, 85
But out, alas, his horns too high did show.
The dogs were covered over head and ears;
No part is seen, only their nose appears.
The stag and river like a race did show,
He striving still the river to outgo, 90
Whilst men and horses down the banks did run,
Encouraging the dogs to follow on,
Where in the water, like a looking-glass,
He by reflection saw their shadows pass.
Fear did his breath cut short; his limbs did shrink 95
Like those the cramp makes to th’bottom sink.
Thus out of breath, no longer could he stay,
But leaped on land and swiftly ran away.
Change gave him ease, ease strength; in strength hope lives;
Hope joys the heart, and joy light heels still gives. 100
His feet did like a feathered arrow fly,
Or like a wingèd bird, that mounts the sky.
The dogs, like ships that sail with wind and tide,
Which cut the air, and waters deep divide,
Or like as greedy merchants, which for gain 105
Venture their life, and traffic on the main.
The hunters, like to boys which, without fear,
To see a sight will hazard life that’s dear,
Which sad become when mischief takes not place,
And out of countenance, as with disgrace, 110
But when they see a ruin and a fall,
Return with joy, as if they’d conquered all.
And thus did their three several passions meet:
First the desire to catch the dogs made fleet,
Then fear the stag made run, his life to save, 115
Whilst men for love of mischief digged his grave.
The angry dust flew in each face about,
As if ’twould with revenge their eyes put out,
Yet they all fast went on with a huge cry.
The stag no hope had left, nor help did ’spy; 120
His heart so heavy grew with grief and care,
That his small feet his body scarce could bear.
Yet loath to die or yield to foes was he,
And 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.
Had he the valor of bold Caesar stout,
Yet yield he must 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’d try out; 135
Then men and dogs did circle him about.
Some bit; some barked; all plied him at the bay,
Where with his horns he tossèd some away.
But Fate his thread had spun; he down did fall,
Shedding some tears at his own funeral. 140