A Runnable Stag

Original Text: 
John Davidson, Holiday and Other Poems (London: E. Grant Richards, 1906), pp. 14-19. PR 4525 D5H65 Robarts Library.
2  And apples began to be golden-skinned,
5  We feathered his trail up-wind --
9    A stag, a runnable stag.
10Then the huntsman's horn rang yap, yap, yap,
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
18    He stood, a runnable stag.
21And 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.
28It was Bell-of-the-North and Tinkerman's Pup
30"Tally ho! tally ho!" and the hunt was up,
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.
38  He stumbles at once and you're out of the hunt;
39For 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."
47  The heather, the rocks, and the river-bed,
48The pace grew hot, for the scent lay well,
49  And a runnable stag goes 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.
55For a matter of twenty miles and more,
56  By the densest hedge and the highest wall,
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.
65  In the emerald gloom where the brook ran deep,
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.
73So a fateful hope lit up his eye,
74  And he opened his nostrils wide again,
75And he tossed his branching antlers high
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.
82Three hundred gentlemen, able to ride,
83  Three hundred horses as gallant and free,
84Beheld him escape on the evening tide,
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.


1] 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. Back to Line
3] harboured: traced the stag to its retreat.
coomb: narrow deep valley. Back to Line
4] feathered: chased? quickly followed?
upwind: the direction from which the wind is blowing. Back to Line
6] of warrant: true. Back to Line
7] crop: head (of antlers). Back to Line
8] 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." Back to Line
11] harbourer: the person whose task it is to trace the stag to its hiding place. Back to Line
12] brocket: two-year-old male deer. Back to Line
17] beamed and tined: having antlers with a main stem (or beam) and branched (or tine). Back to Line
19] tufted the covert: "beat" or searched through the hiding place. Back to Line
20] The names of the hunting dogs. Back to Line
29] copse: thicket of trees. Back to Line
31] tufters: those whose job was to dislodge the stag from its covert. Back to Line
37] gelding: castrated male horse. Back to Line
46] dell: little valley. Back to Line
50] quarry: hame hunted. Back to Line
57] bullocks: young bulls. Back to Line
64] at bay: trapped and confronted by the hunters. Back to Line
66] rollers: waves. Back to Line
76] Charlock glen: not identified. Back to Line
85] 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. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
The Pall-Mall Magazine (July-Dec. 1905), pp. 231-33
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.