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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349

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This poem is a very interesting example of narrative verse, written in heroic couplets, by a female poet in seventeenth-century England. It offers the reader an insight into the poet's views and preoccupations, and that insight is rather surprising: the concerns of the poet, who sets herself in opposition to hunting and bloodsports, seem distinctly modern. In choosing to make the protagonist in this poem a hare, Wat, being hunted by a pack of nameless men and dogs, the poet forces us to put ourselves in the position of a suffering animal whose "feare" and "terrour" is a direct result of human behavior. By depicting the hare as a "patient" creature, whose desire for life is just as strong as ours—in "striving with Death," he finds a new lease of strength beyond what should have been physically possible—the poet expresses the hypocrisy of hunting these animals for sport. Indeed, the men and dogs in the poem, who express "hooping" joy at having killed the hare, are the ones who seem like animals, not the noble hare.

The poet does not mince her words in describing the act of hunting these animals—indeed, she criticizes those who would fill their stomachs with "murther'd bodios" (murdered bodies) whom they have killed for sport. This is strong, direct language, in line with the statement that man is "the most cruell wild" of all animals. The poet depicts man as a creature who has failed to appreciate God's creation, believing instead that all other animals exist for him to "tyramize upon."

It is interesting, too, that Wat in this poem most certainly seems to have a soul. Like a human does, he feels fear, urgency to live, and is possessed of a "Ghost" or spirit which he is forced to "give up" when he is caught. The poet's use of structure and perspective force the reader to view the relationship between human and animal in a different way: Lucas questions, are humans special among animals? Why should we imagine ourselves to be so, and then abuse other animals in this way?

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505

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 take pity on him and blow his scent away. The dogs scatter, each searching bits of grass or tracts of land. Soon the dogs’ work, which the poet compares to witchcraft, brings them back on task. When one dog discovers Wat’s scent, the horns sound and the other dogs follow. The poet now provides an extended analogy comparing the barking dogs to members of a choir. The large slow dogs are the basses; the swift hounds are the tenors. Beagles sing treble, and the horns keep time as the hunters shout for joy. The hunters, seeming valiant, spur their horses, swim rivers, leap ditches, and endanger themselves only to see the hare, who has died with weeping eyes. The hunters begin rejoicing “as if the devil they did prisoner take.”

The poet now satirizes hunting, noting that the sport is not valiant. Although men think that hunting provides good exercise, the poet argues that men are cruel when they kill harmless creatures which are imagined to be dangerous game. Hunters, the poet continues, destroy God’s creation for sport, and in so doing make their stomachs “graves” for the murdered animals. The poet states that, although men believe themselves to be gentle, they are actually the cruelest creatures. Proud men, Cavendish concludes, believe that they possess a godlike entitlement and that all creatures were made for them to tyrannize.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497

“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 “were,” and a pause all cause the lines to drag, while the jumbled syntax of “still the dogs they were” gives the line an almost nightmarish quality of paralysis.

Later the poet accentuates the barbarity of the hunt by allowing nature to function on behalf of the hare. After running through field, wood, and plain, the exhausted Wat is momentarily saved by the winds that “did pity poor Wat’s case.” Here the poet is using a poetic trope later critics would call the pathetic fallacy: assigning human sympathies to the natural world. Feeling pity for Wat’s fate, nature tries to prevent the unnaturalness of the dogs’ pursuit. After Wat is killed, the poet depicts the senselessness of the hunt. The huntsmen endanger their lives only to recover the pathetic hare. By showing the ridiculousness of the hunters risking their lives for so inconsequential a prize, Cavendish introduces to her poem a mock-heroic quality. Cavendish, like John Dryden and Alexander Pope, uses the mock heroic, which treats trivial issues with exaggerated seriousness, to ridicule human folly. Finding the poor hare, the hunters appear silly and deluded: “Men hooping loud such acclamations make/ As if the devil they did prisoner take,/ When they do but a shiftless creature kill.” Near the end of the poem, Cavendish uses metaphor to heighten her message. The hunters’ stomachs become “graves” which hold the “murthered bodies” of the prey. This metaphor prepares the reader for the poem’s unsettling conclusion, in which Cavendish exposes the unnaturalness of the hunters’ pride.