Whoso List to Hunt Summary
In line 1 of "Whoso List to Hunt," the narrator states that for those who wish to hunt, he knows of a particular hind, a female deer. The narrator himself is trying to abandon the hunt, acknowledging in line 2 that this hind is beyond his reach. Indeed, he is "wearied" from the "vain travail," the useless work, of the hunt; he has begun to recognize the futility of the pursuit. He laments in the fourth line that he is the last of the pursuers, the one "that farthest cometh behind."
In the second stanza, the narrator states that he cannot take his "wearied mind … from the deer." When she flees, he proclaims, "Fainting I follow." Nevertheless, he is ultimately forced to indeed abandon the chase, as she is too fast and all that he can catch is the wind that rises after she passes. In sum, the first eight lines, the octave, state the problem of the writer's wasted hunt.
In the closing sestet, the invitation initially offered by the narrator to whoever wishes to hunt this particular hind is partly rescinded; in line 9, the narrator states that he will remove any doubt about the wisdom of doing so. Just as his hunt was in vain, so would be those of other hunters, as the hind wears a diamond collar around her neck proclaiming her ownership by another. The concluding couplet notes that the collar reads "Noli me tangere," or "Touch me not" in Latin. Thus, the first part of the warning is "Touch me not, for Caesar's I am." According to legend, long after the ancient Roman emperor Caesar's death, white stags were found wearing collars on which were inscribed the words "Noli me tangere; Caesaris sum," or "Touch me not; I am Caesar's." The first part of that phrase, "Noli me tangere," is also a quotation from the Vulgate Bible, from John 20:17, when Christ tells Mary Magdalene, "Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father." In the final line, the warning on the collar continues: the deer herself declares that while she appears tame, holding her is dangerous, as she is wild.