- At the raw end of winter
the mountain is half snow, half
dun grass. Only when snow
moves does it become a hare.
- If you can catch a hare
and look into its eye
you will see the whole world.
- That day in March
watching two hares boxing
at the field’s edge, she felt
the child quicken.
- It is certain Midas never saw a hare
or he would not have lusted after gold.
- When the buzzard wheels
like a slow kite overhead
the hare pays out the string.
- The man who tells you
he has thought of everything
has forgotten the hare.
- The hare’s form, warm yet empty.
Stumbling upon it he felt his heart
lurch and race beneath his ribs.
- Beset by fears, she became
the hare who hears
the mowers’ voices grow louder.
- Light as the moon’s path over the sea
the run of the hare over the land.
- The birchwood a dapple
of fallen gold: a carved hare
lies in a Pictish hoard.
- Waking to the cry of a hare
she ran and found the child sleeping.
- November stiffens
into December: hare and grass
have grown a thick coat of frost.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2005. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2005 was Richard Price.
Folklore, intuition, mystery – the exuberance of hares and the seasons changing. An enigmatic poem and all the more memorable for it.
Various strands and concerns went into the poem’s making, not least an abiding affection for this most beautiful and mysterious of creatures, and I have embedded some of my own ‘close encounters’ in the writing. Myths all over the world concur in having the hare stand for change, transformation, resurrection (the hare is the original ‘Easter bunny’). In India, Africa, North America, and China, the hare was associated with that most changeable of things, the moon, and with fire (in Chinese mythology it is the ‘hare in the moon’, not the ‘man in the moon’); in Ancient Egypt the hare was used as a hieroglyph for the word denoting existence; in European folklore it is a witch’s familiar. The hare is an archetype, is numinous. In these islands we are fortunate in having three kinds of hare: the brown or common hare, the Irish hare, and the blue or mountain hare of Scotland. It is this last, with its different summer and winter pelages, that features in my poem.
Ideas about transformation, especially the sympathetic magic underlying the process of metaphor, interest me greatly, and the naturally elusive and mythic qualities of the hare readily embody this. Why a ‘calendar’? It offered a handy framework for conveying ideas about transformation through time passing, and also allowed me to focus intensely to produce brief snapshots like fleeting glimpses of the hare. Some verses are naturalistic, others more proverbial or emblematic in tone. I have also tried to ‘think haiku’, a form I see as a transforming-machine with a space at its heart, a gap across which we step from one place into somewhere else. But I have tried always to keep faith with the creature itself, bearing in mind its behaviour in the wild as well as the mythic, magical values it has acquired in human consciousness over the millennia. To see a hare is to be reminded of the mystery of lives tangential to our own, their beauty and vulnerability.
I dedicated ‘A Calendar of Hares’ to the Scottish poet, Valerie Gillies, whose writing about the natural world I have always admired, and those who know her work will perceive my debt to her poem, ‘The Rink’, especially in verse 10 which celebrates the hare’s capacity for stillness, for becoming invisible. I have drawn on several memories of my own: watching mountain hares in parti-coloured pelage up at Dalwhinnie, when my cousin and I asked, is it snow or is it a hare; being pregnant and watching jack-hares boxing near Lochend and suddenly feeling my daughter quicken. Underpinning the poem there is a childhood memory of the first hare I ever saw, killed when we were driving down to Devon one summer. It was soft, gold, almost unmarked, and I remember its great dark eye and a feeling of loss.
My grateful thanks go to the Canadian Zen painter, Chan Ky Yut, who created a beautiful artist’s book from my poem.