Isabella Valancy Crawford

The Dark Stag

     A startled stag, the blue-grey Night,
         Leaps down beyond black pines.
     Behind—a length of yellow light—
         The hunter's arrow shines:
     His moccasins are stained with red,
         He bends upon his knee,
     From covering peaks his shafts are sped,
     The blue mists plume his mighty head,—
         Well may the swift Night flee!
     The pale, pale Moon, a snow-white doe,
         Bounds by his dappled flank:
     They beat the stars down as they go,
         Like wood-bells growing rank.
     The winds lift dewlaps from the ground,
         Leap from the quaking reeds;
     Their hoarse bays shake the forests round,
     With keen cries on the track they bound,—
         Swift, swift the dark stag speeds!
     Away! his white doe, far behind,
         Lies wounded on the plain;
     Yells at his flank the nimblest wind,
         His large tears fall in rain;
     Like lily-pads, small clouds grow white
         About his darkling way;
     From his bald nest upon the height
     The red-eyed eagle sees his flight;
     He falters, turns, the antlered Night,—
         The dark stag stands at bay!
     His feet are in the waves of space;
         His antlers broad and dun
     He lowers; he turns his velvet face
         To front the hunter, Sun;
     He stamps the lilied clouds, and high
         His branches fill the west.
     The lean stork sails across the sky,
     The shy loon shrieks to see him die,
         The winds leap at his breast.
     Roar the rent lakes as thro' the wave
         Their silver warriors plunge,
     As vaults from core of crystal cave
         The strong, fierce muskallunge;
     Red torches of the sumach glare,
         Fall's council-fires are lit;
     The bittern, squaw-like, scolds the air;
     The wild duck splashes loudly where
         The rustling rice-spears knit.
     Shaft after shaft the red Sun speeds:
         Rent the stag's dappled side,
     His breast, fanged by the shrill winds, bleeds,
         He staggers on the tide;
     He feels the hungry waves of space
         Rush at him high and blue;
     Their white spray smites his dusky face,
     Swifter the Sun's fierce arrows race
         And pierce his stout heart thro'.
     His antlers fall; once more he spurns
         The hoarse hounds of the day;
     His blood upon the crisp blue burns,
         Reddens the mounting spray;
     His branches smite the wave—with cries
         The loud winds pause and flag—
     He sinks in space—red glow the skies,
     The brown earth crimsons as he dies,
         The strong and dusky stag.

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