The Dark Stag

Original Text: 
The Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford, ed. J. W. Garvin (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905): 78-80.
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:
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,
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
43    Fall's council-fires are lit;
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.


5] moccasins: soft leather shoe or boot without heel made by Amerindian peoples. Back to Line
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). Back to Line
41] muskallunge: Algonquin term for a large pike. Back to Line
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). Back to Line
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). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
In The Evening Telegram (Toronto)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1997.