JOHN DAVIDSON (1857-1909)


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1     When the pods went pop on the broom, green broom,
2       And apples began to be golden-skinned,
3     We harboured a stag in the Priory coomb,
4       And we feathered his trail up-wind, up-wind,
5       We feathered his trail up-wind --
6         A stag of warrant, a stag, a stag,
7         A runnable stag, a kingly crop,
8         Brow, bay and tray and three on top,
9         A stag, a runnable stag.

10   Then the huntsman's horn rang yap, yap, yap,
11     And 'Forwards' we heard the harbourer shout;
12   But 'twas only a brocket that broke a gap
13     In the beechen underwood, driven out,
14     From the underwood antlered out
15       By warrant and might of the stag, the stag,
16       The runnable stag, whose lordly mind
17       Was bent on sleep, though beamed and tined
18       He stood, a runnable stag.

19   So we tufted the covert till afternoon
20     With Tinkerman's Pup and Bell-of-the-North;
21   And hunters were sulky and hounds out of tune
22     Before we tufted the right stag forth,
23     Before we tufted him forth,
24       The stag of warrant, the wily stag,
25       The runnable stag with his kingly crop,
26       Brow, bay and tray and three on top,
27       The royal and runnable stag.

28   It was Bell-of-the-North and Tinkerman's Pup
29     That stuck to the scent till the copse was drawn.
30   "Tally ho! tally ho!" and the hunt was up,
31     The tufters whipped and the pack laid on,
32     The resolute pack laid on,
33       And the stag of warrant away at last,
34       The runnable stag, the same, the same
35       His hoofs on fire, his horns like flame,
36       A stag, a runnable stag.

37   "Let your gelding be: if you check or chide
38     He stumbles at once and you're out of the hunt;
39   For three hundred gentlemen, able to ride,
40     On hunters accustomed to bear the brunt,
41     Accustomed to bear the brunt,
42       Are after the runnable stag, the stag,
43       The runnable stag with his kingly crop,
44       Brow, bay and tray and three on top,
45       The right, the runnable stag."

46  By perilous paths in coomb and dell,
47    The heather, the rocks, and the river-bed,
48  The pace grew hot, for the scent lay well,
49    And a runnable stag goes right ahead,
50    The quarry went right ahead --
51      Ahead, ahead, and fast and far;
52      His antlered crest, his cloven hoof,
53      Brow, bay and tray and three aloof,
54      The stag, the runnable stag.

55  For a matter of twenty miles and more,
56    By the densest hedge and the highest wall,
57  Through herds of bullocks he baffled the lore
58    Of harbourer, huntsman, hounds and all,
59    Of harbourer hounds and all --
60      The stag of warrant, the wily stag,
61      For twenty miles, and five and five,
62      He ran, and he never was caught alive,
63      This stag, this runnable stag.

64  When he turned at bay in the leafy gloom,
65    In the emerald gloom where the brook ran deep,
66  He heard in the distance the rollers boom,
67    And he saw in a vision of peaceful sleep,
68    In a wonderful vision of sleep,
69      A stag of warrant, a stag, a stag,
70      A runnable stag in a jewelled bed,
71      Under the sheltering ocean dead,
72      A stag, a runnable stag.

73  So a fateful hope lit up his eye,
74    And he opened his nostrils wide again,
75  And he tossed his branching antlers high
76    As he headed the hunt down the Charlock glen,
77    As he raced down the echoing glen
78      For five miles more, the stag, the stag,
79      For twenty miles, and five and five,
80      Not to be caught now, dead or alive,
81      The stag, the runnable stag.

82  Three hundred gentlemen, able to ride,
83    Three hundred horses as gallant and free,
84  Beheld him escape on the evening tide,
85    For out till he sank in the Severn Sea,
86    Till he sank in the depths of the sea --
87      The stag, the buoyant stag, the stag
88      That slept at last in a jewelled bed
89      Under the sheltering ocean spread,
90      The stag, the runnable stag.


Composition Date:
In his edition of Davidson's works, Andrew Turnbull writes: "This poem appears to have been inspired by the descriptions of stag-hunting in Richard Jefferies' Red Deer. Another possible source is G. Whyte-Melville's novel Katerfelto (London, 1875) chapters 22-4, in which the general pattern of incident is fairly similar" (p. 498). Turnbull cites specific points of indebtedness at lines 8 (Red Deer, pp. 84-85), 10-15 (p. 14), 37-38 (p. 150), 39 (p. 126), 46-50 (p. 148), 57-59 (p. 156), 64-68 (pp. 156-65), and 87 (p. 164).
pods: dry seedpods or vessels whose cases are popped out, releasing the seeds.
broom: slender-branched scrub.
harboured: traced the stag to its retreat.
coomb: narrow deep valley.
feathered: chased? quickly followed?
upwind: the direction from which the wind is blowing.
of warrant: true.
crop: head (of antlers).
Brow, bay and tray and three on top: an antler with three branches (brow, the lowest; bay, the second up; and tray, the third up or "royal"; and a top split into three points or "surroyal."
harbourer: the person whose task it is to trace the stag to its hiding place.
brocket: two-year-old male deer.
beamed and tired: having antlers with a main stem (or beam) and branched (or tine).
tufted the covert: "beat" or searched through the hiding place.
The names of the hunting dogs.
copse: thicket of trees.
tufters: those whose job was to dislodge the stag from its covert.
gelding: castrated male horse.
dell: little valley.
quarry: hame hunted.
bullocks: young bulls.
at bay: trapped and confronted by the hunters.
rollers: waves.
Charlock glen: not identified.
Severn Sea: the estuary of the Severn river as it spreads out into a wide waterway flowing into the Bristol Channel in the west of England.