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Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887)

The Dark Stag


              1A startled stag, the blue-grey Night,
              2    Leaps down beyond black pines.
              3Behind--a length of yellow light--
              4    The hunter's arrow shines:
              5His moccasins are stained with red,
              6    He bends upon his knee,
              7From covering peaks his shafts are sped,
              8The blue mists plume his mighty head,--
              9    Well may the swift Night flee!

            10The pale, pale Moon, a snow-white doe,
            11    Bounds by his dappled flank:
            12They beat the stars down as they go,
            13    Like wood-bells growing rank.
            14The winds lift dewlaps from the ground,
            15    Leap from the quaking reeds;
            16Their hoarse bays shake the forests round,
            17With keen cries on the track they bound,--
            18    Swift, swift the dark stag speeds!

            19Away! his white doe, far behind,
            20    Lies wounded on the plain;
            21Yells at his flank the nimblest wind,
            22    His large tears fall in rain;
            23Like lily-pads, small clouds grow white
            24    About his darkling way;
            25From his bald nest upon the height
            26The red-eyed eagle sees his flight;
            27He falters, turns, the antlered Night,--
            28    The dark stag stands at bay!

            29His feet are in the waves of space;
            30    His antlers broad and dun
            31He lowers; he turns his velvet face
            32    To front the hunter, Sun;
            33He stamps the lilied clouds, and high
            34    His branches fill the west.
            35The lean stork sails across the sky,
            36The shy loon shrieks to see him die,
            37    The winds leap at his breast.

            38Roar the rent lakes as thro' the wave
            39    Their silver warriors plunge,
            40As vaults from core of crystal cave
            41    The strong, fierce muskallunge;
            42Red torches of the sumach glare,
            43    Fall's council-fires are lit;
            44The bittern, squaw-like, scolds the air;
            45The wild duck splashes loudly where
            46    The rustling rice-spears knit.

            47Shaft after shaft the red Sun speeds:
            48    Rent the stag's dappled side,
            49His breast, fanged by the shrill winds, bleeds,
            50    He staggers on the tide;
            51He feels the hungry waves of space
            52    Rush at him high and blue;
            53Their white spray smites his dusky face,
            54Swifter the Sun's fierce arrows race
            55    And pierce his stout heart thro'.

            56His antlers fall; once more he spurns
            57    The hoarse hounds of the day;
            58His blood upon the crisp blue burns,
            59    Reddens the mounting spray;
            60His branches smite the wave--with cries
            61    The loud winds pause and flag--
            62He sinks in space--red glow the skies,
            63The brown earth crimsons as he dies,
            64    The strong and dusky stag.

Notes

5] moccasins: soft leather shoe or boot without heel made by Amerindian peoples.

36] loon: the common loon is a goose-sized North American fish-eating bird well known for its night wail, a "Wild maniacal laugh, also a mournful yodeled oo-AH-ho with middle note higher, and a loud ringing kee-a-ree,kee-a-ree with middle note lower" (John Bull and John Farrand, Jr., The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region [New York: Knopf, 1977]: 466).

41] muskallunge: Algonquin term for a large pike.

42] sumach: staghorn sumac, a shrub or small tree common to the Great Lakes region eastward to the Maritime provinces whose leaves in autumn turn "bright scarlet with shades of crimson" (R. C. Hosie, Native Trees of Canada [Canadian Forestry Service, 1973]: 260-61).

44] bittern: the American bittern, a medium-sized brown heron well-known for its voice, a "Peculiar pumping sound, oong-KA-chunk!, repeated a few times and often audible for half a mile" and responsible for common names like "Thunder-pumper" and "Stake-driver" (John Bull and John Farrand, Jr., The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region [New York: Knopf, 1977]: 410).


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford, ed. J. W. Garvin (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905): 78-80.
First publication date: 28 November 1883
Publication date note: In The Evening Telegram (Toronto)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/17

Rhyme: ababcdccd


Other poems by Isabella Valancy Crawford