The Grey Hare

The Grey Hare

A gray hare was living in the winter near the village. When night came, he pricked one ear and listened; then he pricked his second ear, moved his whiskers, sniffed, and sat down on his hind legs. Then he took a leap or two over the deep snow, and again sat down on his hind legs, and looked around him. Nothing could be seen but snow. The snow lay in waves and glistened like sugar. Over the hare’s head hovered a frost vapour, and through this vapour could be seen the large, bright stars.
The hare had to cross the highway, in order to come to a threshing-floor he knew of. On the highway the runners could be heard squeaking, and the horses snorting, and seats creaking in the sleighs.
The hare again stopped near the road. Peasants were walking beside the sleighs, and the collars of their caftans were raised. Their faces were scarcely visible. Their beards, moustaches, and eyelashes were white. Steam rose from their mouths and noses. Their horses were sweaty, and the hoarfrost clung to the sweat. The horses jostled under their arches, and dived in and out of snow-drifts. The peasants ran behind the horses and in front of them, and beat them with their whips. Two peasants walked beside each other, and one of them told the other how a horse of his had once been stolen.
When the carts passed by, the hare leaped across the road and softly made for the threshing-floor. A dog saw the hare from a cart. He began to bark and darted after the hare. The hare leaped toward the threshing-floor over the snow-drifts, which held him back; but the dog stuck fast in the snow after the tenth leap, and stopped. Then the hare, too, stopped and sat up on his hind legs, and then softly went on to the threshing-floor.
On his way he met two other hares on the sowed winter field. They were feeding and playing. The hare played awhile with his companions, dug away the frosty snow with them, ate the wintergreen, and went on.
In the village everything was quiet; the fires were out. All one could hear was a baby’s cry in a hut and the crackling of the frost in the logs of the cabins. The hare went to the threshing-floor, and there found some companions. He played awhile with them on the cleared floor, ate some oats from the open granary, climbed on the kiln over the snow-covered roof, and across the wicker fence started back to his ravine.
The dawn was glimmering in the east; the stars grew less, and the frost vapours rose more densely from the earth. In the near-by village the women got up, and went to fetch water; the peasants brought the feed from the barn; the children shouted and cried. There were still more carts going down the road, and the peasants talked aloud to each other.
The hare leaped across the road, went up to his old lair, picked out a high place, dug away the snow, lay with his back in his new lair, dropped his ears on his back, and fell asleep with open eyes.
-graf Leo Tolstoy-

Illustration: Gaston Phoebus, Le Livre de la chasse, ca 1407, Paris

Calling fairies in Sussex

Calling fairies in Sussex

“Well, Mrs. Jasper, she said there was only one way to bring ’em. You must do it on a moonlight night just when the pollen was ripe on the catkins. I was always teasing and praying her to show me and at last one night she took me with her into the woods. I never shall forget it. She made me sit on the stump of an old tree in a little clearing where the moonlight came through, and she stood a few steps away with two small branches in her hands. I saw the gold dust flying from the catkins as she waved them gently, and sang a little song over and over in a funny low drawlin’ husky voice – just as though she was coaxin’ ’em :

Come in the stillness,
Come in the night,
Come soon,
And bring delight.
Beckoning, beckoning,
Left hand and right,
Come now,
Ah, come to-night!

It almost drew me off my stump to hear her, and the dog came creeping to her feet. No, I didn’t see anything – nothing but the gold dust fallin’ from the catkins, and her fluttering hands. But she said she’d seen ’em, often, but they only came when she was alone, they didn’t care about company. They’d come slidin’ down a branch to her and laugh and disappear again. The dog, he couldn’t abear them. He’d bristle up and growl and slink into the bushes. He knew they weren’t canny.”
-read more-

Illustration: Frank Cadogan Cowper

The Mirage

The Mirage

The hope I dreamed of was a dream,
Was but a dream; and now I wake
Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,
For a dream’s sake.

I hang my harp upon a tree,
A weeping willow in a lake;
I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt
For a dream’s sake.

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;
My silent heart, lie still and break:
Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed
For a dream’s sake.
-Christina Rossetti-

You can download Christina Rossetti’s book of poetry for free here

Illustration: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Hedgehogs and Slavic folklore

Hedgehogs and Slavic folklore

And also, he thought about the horse… How is she, there alone in the fog?

There’s a great article going around on hedgehogs in Slavic folklore as keepers of wisdom and I have to say, the Russian animation movie mentioned in the article, Hedgehog in the Fog by Yuri Norstein, is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen (and the source of the featured images in this post). Do watch it if you have 10 minutes!
It’s based on a fairy tale by Sergei Kozlov (1940-2010) – you can click the link to read 4 of his tales in English. Even in translation they still have a dream-like atmosphere.

The following tale, The Hedgehog, is a fairy tale of the Mari-el, a Finno-Ugric ethnic group, who have traditionally lived along the Volga and Kama rivers in Russia. The story has been translated by Zeluna.net and it’s worth following the link for more.

When autumn came a hedgehog sensed the approach of winter as he was walking through the thick grass. So he began to collect fallen leaves, dragging them into a pile to build himself a warm shelter. The hedgehog then began to look for a hole to stay in. As he looked he came to a willow hare.
“What do you want with all these leaves?” the willow hare asked with surprise.
“I’m preparing a warm winter nest,” the hedgehog explained. 
“Oh please build me one,” the hare begged. 
“How can I not help such a good friend,” the hedgehog said.
Delighted the hare ran into the thicket.
The next morning the hare laid down in his warm burrow when along came the fox.
“Friend hare, how did you get such a nice burrow?” the fox asked.
“The hedgehog built it for me, I’m sure if you ask him he’ll build one for you,” the hare answered.
So the fox went and begged the hedgehog to built him a burrow as well which the hedgehog agreed to do.
Next the wolf found out that he could get a warm burrow from the hedgehog so he went to the hedgehog as well. The hedgehog was worried that he wouldn’t have time to build his own burrow if he kept building it for everyone else so he tried to refuse but the wolf bared his teeth at the hedgehog.
Seeing no other choice the hedgehog agreed to build the wolfs burrow as well. But before putting down the leaves in the bottom he brought up jagged rocks from the creek and laid them under the leaves. The wolf jumped down into his den thinking it would be soft but hit the jagged rocks. 
“Ow, what have you done? The wolf complained.
“I don’t really know how to build a burrow,” the hedgehog replied.

 

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Fox, hare, and rooster

Fox, hare, and rooster

Once more the hare went on his way crying and met a cock with a scythe.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo! Why are you crying, hare?”
“Leave me alone, cock! Who wouldn’t cry? I had a house of wood, while the fox had one of ice. She invited herself into mine and drove me out.”
“Come along with me, I’ll chase her out.”
“No, you won’t,” said the hare. “The dogs tried and failed; the bear tried and failed; the ox tried and failed. You’ll fare no better.”
“Oh, yes I-will.” So they went up to the house. “Cock-a-doodle-doo! I’ll cut that fox in two with my scythe so sharp and true!”
When the fox heard that, she took fright and called, “I’m getting dressed.” Again the cock crowed: “Cock-a-doodle-doo! I’ll cut that fox in two with my scythe so sharp and true!” And the fox cried: “I’m putting on my fur coat.” A third time the cock crowed: “Cock-a-doodle-doo! I’ll cut that fox in two with my scythe so sharp and true!” The fox rushed out of the door and the cock cut off her head.
So the hare and the cock lived together happily ever after
-Collected and edited by Michael Terletski-

Yuri Norstein made a lovely ten-minute animation movie of this Russian fairy tale. Because sometimes, you need a rooster with a scythe 🙂

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Illustration: Ohara Koson
Photograph: Jan Weggelaar

 

The Wild Swans at Coole

The Wild Swans at Coole
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
-W.B. Yeats-

Illustration: Walter Crane

The Hare

The Hare

In the black furrow of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
And she cocked a lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright,
And she nibbled of the green;
And I whispered “Wh-s-st! witch-hare,”
Away like a ghostie o’er the field
She fled, and left the moonlight there.
-Walter de la Mare-

Once seen as intimately connected to the moon, hares remain elusive, unknowable creatures even now; hard to catch and almost impossible to keep in captivity. It’s no wonder then that they became associated with witchcraft.
An enchanted hare that couldn’t be caught or killed except by magic – the silver bullet, the black dog – was known as ‘not right’. ‘It wasn’t a right hare,’ people would say after its escape, and even if it was killed, its flesh was said to be impossible to cook. If you managed to hurt the creature before it fled, you could be sure that later, somewhere a woman would be nursing a wound, still out of breath from the chase.

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If you’re interested in hare-folklore, I recommend the book ‘The Leaping Hare’ by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson (Faber & Faber). It’s invaluable for its collection of anecdotes as told by farmers, hunters, poachers, and countrymen.These orally transmitted stories can so easily be lost!
Here is such a tale, quoted from the book:

It was after John Page had been made a gamekeeper and got a cottage with a bit of land that he got up one morning to fodder cattle.
But this morning he got up; he got up middling early because he had a couple of animals; and there was about four inches of snow out; and he got up, and he had a couple o’ cattle in the land down below the house. And he went down with a bit o’ hay for the two cattle. As he was going along he met a hare’s track. He flung the hay to the cattle and he followed the track. Never drew rein until he went to the steeple of Killrodawn below – a mile and a half this side of Loch Linn – over from Loch Linn. And the old wall that was in it – there was an old ivy bush growing on the side of it. And the hare’s track went up this ivy bush that was along the old wall. And he was going along creeping and the stick ready to let bang at the hare. And the hare sat up. “Page”, he says, “you’re a foolish man to follow me so far!” He drew back his stick – there’s no lie in it! – “Now,” says the hare, “don’t be afraid of me,” he says, “I’ll do you no harm,” he says, “you have  a shilling in your pocket; and go to Loch Linn”, he says, “and get two glasses of whiskey’, he says, ‘you want it!” (And you could get a glass of whiskey for fourpence at the time.) “You can get two of them,” he says, “and that will bring you home to Clooncondra. But never follow me again!”
Divil a hare he ever followed from that day till he died.

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Here’s the great and rather amusing Cornish folktale of The Witch of Treva, about a witch and her husband, and my own modern fairy tale, Chasing the Wind.

Are these stories what remains of our memories of ancient rituals, of shamans dressing up as animals to ensure a good hunt, to acquire knowledge, to devise a framework for reality? Or is there a chance that one could still, on a moonlit night, see a woman change into a hare; running, always running away?

Illustrations: Albrecht Durer the younger and Hans Hoffmann