Friday, December 12, 2014

Epitaph on a Hare - William Cowper

Here lies, whom hound did ne'er pursue,
   Nor swifter greyhound follow,
Whose foot ne'er tainted morning dew,
   Nor ear heard hunstman's hallo',

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
   Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domesticate bounds confined,
   Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
   His pittance every night,
He did it with a jealous look,
   And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
   And milk, and oats, and straw,
Thistles, or lettuces instead,
   With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
   On pippins' russet peel;
And, when his juicy salads failed,
   Sliced carrot pleased him well.

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
   Whereon he loved to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
   And wind his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
   For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching showers,
   Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
   He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out all his idle noons,
   And every night at play.

I kept him for his humor's sake,
   For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
   And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
   He finds his long, last home,
And waits in snug concealment laid,
   Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more aged, feels the shocks
   From which no care can save,
And, partner once of Tiney's box,
   Must soon partake his grave.

While mostly a humorous account of his dearly departed pet hare, Tiney, William Cowper nonetheless injects some of the sentimentality to which all pet owners can relate.  Mostly, we hear what the little gone hare used to like to eat, and the way he would play and scamper about, raising Cowper's spirits.  At the end of the poem, Cowper feels sad for the pet left alive, older than Tiney, who will join him eventually.  While the tone of the poem is light and playful, that Cowper even bothered to eulogize over his pet shows that he really did love and appreciate its presence.  While there is an element of the ridiculous in writing an elegy for a pet rabbit, it's something I can completely understand, and I'm sure any pet owner reading this will understand as well.


  1. Having raised free-ranging house rabbits as pets for twenty plus years, I completely understand Cowper's motivation in writing this. Cowper obviously spent a lot of time observing his rabbits, learning about them, and developing an affection and respect for them which perhaps only another rabbit lover can appreciate. Thank you for publishing this online.

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