The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Margaret Cavendish’s poem begins in a field where a small hare, Wat, lies close to the ground between two ridges of plowed earth. The poet notes that Wat always faces the wind, which would otherwise blow under his fur and make him cold. Wat rests in the field all day. At sunset he begins wandering, which he continues to do until dawn. Huntsmen and dogs discover Wat, who begins to runs away. As the dogs bark, Wat becomes terrified and believes that every shadow is a dog. After running a distance, he lies under a clod of earth in a sandpit. Soon he hears the huntsmen’s horns and the dogs’ barking, and he begins to run once more, this time so quickly that he scarcely treads the ground. Wat runs into a thick wood and hides under a broken bough, frightened by every leaf that is shaken by the wind. Hoping to deceive the dogs, he runs into unenclosed fields. While the dogs search for his scent, Wat, being weary, slows down. Sitting on his hind legs, he rubs the dust and sweat from his face with his forefeet. He then licks his feet and cleans his ears so well that no one could tell he had been hunted.

Wat sees the hounds and is again terrified. His fear gives him the strength to move more quickly. Ironically, he has never felt stronger than during this time of crisis. The poet notes that spirits often seek to guard the heart from death but that death eventually wins. The hounds approach Wat quickly. Just as the hare resigns himself to his fate, the winds...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Hunting of the Hare” is written in rhymed lines of iambic pentameter, or heroic couplets, which would become the most important verse form of Restoration and eighteenth century poetry. Cavendish uses this form and several poetic devices and conventions to create a sustained effect, one that shows the cruelty and senselessness of hunting.

Early in the poem Cavendish anthropomorphizes (gives human characteristics to) the hare, first by naming him and then by assigning to him human emotions. When first startled from his hiding place, Wat hopes to outrun the dogs and is then “struck with terror and with fear” as the dogs pursue him. By making the hare appear human, Cavendish accentuates the drama of the hunt and enhances her appeal to the reader’s emotions. She furthers her intention by manipulating the rhythm and sounds of her lines. Describing the dogs’ pursuit, for example, she reverses the iambic rhythm and offers trochaic lines: “But they by nature have so quick a scent/ That by their nose they trace what way he went.” These lines re-create the bouncing and running of the dogs, which is accentuated by the tapping t sound. In contrast to these fast-paced lines, the poet offers slow lines to describe the hare: “Then Wat was struck with terror and with fear,/ Thinks every shadow still the dogs they were.” In this couplet the repeated s sound, the oz sound in “was,” the ur in “terror” and...

(The entire section is 497 words.)