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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

John Clare: The Fox


Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), seen from behind, San Juan County, Washington: photo by Minette Layne, 30 October 2008

The shepherd on his journey heard when nigh
His dog among the bushes barking high;
The ploughman ran and gave a hearty shout,
He found a weary fox and beat him out.
The ploughman laughed and would have ploughed him in
But the old shepherd took him for the skin.
He lay upon the furrow stretched for dead,
The old dog lay and licked the wounds that bled,
The ploughman beat him till his ribs would crack,
And then the shepherd slung him at his back;
And when he rested, to his dog's surprise,
The old fox started from his dead disguise;
And while the dog lay panting in the sedge
He up and snapt and bolted through the hedge.

He scampered to the bushes far away;
The shepherd called the ploughman to the fray;
The ploughman wished he had a gun to shoot.
The old dog barked and followed the pursuit.
The shepherd threw his hook and tottered past;
The ploughman ran but none could go so fast;
The woodman threw his faggot from the way
And ceased to chop and wondered at the fray.
But when he saw the dog and heard the cry
He threw his hatchet -- but the fox was bye.
The shepherd broke his hook and lost the skin;
He found a badger hole and bolted in.
They tried to dig, but, safe from danger's way,
He lived to chase the hounds another day.

 Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) carrying off a squirrel carcass, Coast Range Mountains of San Luis Obispo County, California: photo by Alan Vernon, 1 June 2011

John Clare (1793-1864): The Fox, c. 1824-1836, from Poems Chiefly from Manuscript, ed. Edmund Blunden & Alan Porter, 1920


TC said...

John Clare worked in the fields among the wild creatures. A strange life of isolation and revelation, like no one else's.

John Clare: Badger

John Clare: I Am

ACravan said...

I thank you inwardly often for introducing me to John Clare, whose work I enjoy so much for so many reasons. This fox series is great. Living here in southeastern Pennsylvania gives us more opportunities than ever before to see foxes and I thank heaven every time I do. I posted a blog once called Foxes Are Lucky, which concerned foxes living on our property and a desert fox we were once introduced to by a funny old man in Spain, but I think I'm lucky to live among them. The day we met that fox in Granada was blindingly white hot, just as this June 20 is supposed to be down here. I'm afraid that everyone I speak to is likely to be on edge and will overreact to anything that's even slightly stressful. Curtis

TC said...

Curtis, it's been a pleasure all along to share the love of Clare's poems with you. Clearly you know your foxes, as did he. I am going to trust that foxes prove lucky, because it's an anxious vigil here at the moment, on the brink of another medical day, and I can use all the luck I can get from every living being in the vicinity. (In the middle of the night I hobbled out as far as the corner and there, on the spot where I was run over, found a family of deer browsing cautiously. They save their wandering until the traffic ceases -- an hour or two in the dead of night. A lesson for the sensible in that, perhaps.)

ACravan said...

Your Berkeley deer are smarter than ours in Pennsylvania, who wander all over all the time. Sadly, it amazes me to say that the deer in Tuxedo, who were basically the leitmotif of the place, are pretty much gone now. The ornamental gardners eventually and semi-surreptitiously had their way and the woods are as dead as the lake, which only simulates life because they stock it with fish to kill. Recently, a local paper in Berwyn confirmed that the albino deer, which streaked by us very quickly a couple of months ago, is actually a rare "pinto" deer. The residents of this suburb, who are the most inconsiderate drivers I've ever encountered, seem not to mind the deer, which is to their credit. When I visit Tuxedo and hear people intoning against the non-existent deer and attesting to personal urban myths/lies about the astonishing number of times they've been afflicted with and successfully treated for Lyme Disease because of the "damn deer," I really need to restrain myself from throwing objects at them. Good luck at the doctor today. We'll be thinking of you. Curtis

Wooden Boy said...

I don't doubt that old fox will be with you today. Poor Clare has made him immortal. I hope you'll be chasing the hounds soon enough.

Wooden Boy said...

"The old fox started from his dead disguise"

I love that line, given that he's in real danger of losing his coat along with his life. Dressing up as dead and on the lookout for the exit.

TC said...

Thanks Curtis and WB, I shall carry these good wishes into the fray.

It's the noble quality of fight-back in the fox, as in the badger, that Clare so plainly admires.

As to the "dead disguise"...Playing Dead can be a useful last resort. It is a common strategy among the opossums here, the ones who manage to survive long enough to put it to use. They are at the bottom of the mammalian territorial chain, well below the formidable raccoon (who may survive two or three winters in the city), below even the squirrels -- who leap about the lower tiers of the Sequoia sempervirens as though they owned the place.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Each day is about survival. The fox enjoys the fat feast. The shadows are useful, for blending in. The others can be frantic but the fox will use patience and all opportunity. A small animal with bold, wild success. The fox is like summer happening despite clouds and cool nights.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Let's hope you're seeing a doctor today and not the vet.

bill sherman said...

Tom. you know...

"Only the Red Fox, Only the Crow"

larry white said...

Graves got me started reading and loving Clare. Ted Hughes recently did likewise -- thanks for posting this to coincide. Fox or possum, may your medical strategy do the trick.



Thanks for all these many more red foxes for Johnny, just now found. He's still in Minnesota, visiting his mother's mother, something to look forward to showing him.

Meanwhile, something more of color here, including a brick red wall (iin Greenpoint).


silver edge of sun rising over shadowed
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

drawing figures from memory,
intimate knowledge of

color shines and wants only
to shine, gone, shows

brick red wall against grey white sky,
wingspan of bird gliding to the right

TC said...

Thanks all. If it weren't too awful to speak of, yesterday was...

There had been no laughter hereabouts for many days until, lo...I Am!