Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 343

The overriding theme in this poem is the cruelty of mankind, whom the poet describes as "the most cruell wild" of all animals. The poem—which uses the perspective of a hare named Wat to detail the fear animals face upon being hunted—is explicitly critical of the huntsmen and their dogs,...

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The overriding theme in this poem is the cruelty of mankind, whom the poet describes as "the most cruell wild" of all animals. The poem—which uses the perspective of a hare named Wat to detail the fear animals face upon being hunted—is explicitly critical of the huntsmen and their dogs, privileging the feelings of the personified hare who must run from them in "feare" and "terrour." She expresses the conviction that those who take "joy" from the hunt have failed to appreciate God's creation. Men, she suggests, are so proud that they believe only they have the right to live, and that all of God's other creatures were simply put on earth for them to "tyramize."

The poet helps to convey this theme through her deliberate choice to name the hare and describe him using human pronouns (rather than using "it"), while the men and their dogs are not named or described. They are defined, in fact, by their animalistic joy in their quest to "destroy" the "poore" hare who has not provoked them or given them cause to hunt him. The hare is "patient," and possessed of a "Ghost"—that is, a spirit or soul, something more usually associated with humans alone. Meanwhile, the men are seen "hooping loud" at what they have done. Throughout the poem, it is the hare who is the noble creature and the man who is the reckless animal.

Another interesting theme in this poem is that of energy and strength born of desperation. While Wat is ultimately unable to escape his pursuers, the poet describes how "health returns," or seems to return, to those who are "dying." There is a connection drawn between the most extreme bounds of Wat's fear and his capacity to run beyond what his body should permit. True fear, and the fear of death close at hand, can sometimes give us new life, a desire to outrun death overcoming any physical weariness. This seems to be a description of Wat's spirit, or soul, overcoming the limitations of his physical body.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

“The Hunting of the Hare” explores several issues that are important to understanding Cavendish’s poetry. Early in the poem the narrator describes how the hare lies close to the ground and faces the wind in order to stay warm. Cavendish had a keen interest in natural history. Herself an amateur scientist, she used her poetry as a vehicle for scientific speculation. As the critic Steven Max Miller has noted, her poetry “abounds with a senseof wonder and delight in nature,” and it sometimes questions “whether animals might know more natural science than man is capable of learning” (Dictionary of Literary Biography 43). Not only does the hare shield himself from the wind, he also executes a thoughtful initial escape from the dogs. Until his death, Wat appears to have an acute perception of his surroundings.

The poem is also an antihunting statement, one of the earliest in the language. Cavendish depicts the hare’s death as a result of unnecessary cruelty. The hunters have no reason to kill the innocent creature except “for sport, or recreation’s sake,” and Cavendish makes clear that in indulging their desires they commit the equivalent of a crime. Earlier poems, such as Sir John Denham’s Cooper’s Hill (1642), used the hunt as a metaphor for man’s political intrigues. used the hunt as a metaphor for man’s political intrigues. Alexander Pope’s Windsor Forest (1713), published sixty years after Cavendish’s poem, explores the ambivalence and responsibility that accompany the “pleasing Toils” of the hunt. With its exaggerated pathos, Cavendish’s poem is unique for its time, standing as seventeenth century England’s strongest poetic condemnation of blood sport.

Cavendish condemns more than hunting, however; she also attacks the pride that causes individuals to engage in such activities. Near the end of the poem, the narrator reveals that hunters believe that God provided them with a “godlike nature”; all creatures were made for human domination. Believing in their own superiority, the hunters become morally inferior to the animals they hunt. In satirizing the hunters’ pride, Cavendish anticipates a central theme of Restoration and eighteenth century poetry. Disrupting an implied natural order, the hunters become the embodiment of pride as understood by poets such as Pope, who wrote, “In Prideour error lies;/ All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies./And who but wishes to invert the laws/ Of ORDER, sins against th’ Eternal Cause” (Pope’s Essay on Man).

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