Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Huntsman, What Quarry?" A Literary Criticism...

 Last weekend I took the boys (and Ozzy the pup) to spend a few days in my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, visiting family and doing a little yard work for my grandmother. While there I was delighted to discover that the Norman Public Library, one of my favorite places in the whole world and a building in which a very sizable chunk of my childhood was spent in escapist bliss, was having its annual book sale.

So of course I hustled on down to see what could be had. I found a few good titles. A leather-bound limited first-edition "Bishop's Wildfowl" was a cool score for me, as was a copy of "Duck Shooting Along the Atlantic Tidewater." I also found an excellent condition ex-library 1958 hardcover (w/excellent dustjacket) "Martian Chronicles" as well as an old paperback copy of Richard Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America", a UT Press copy of J. Frank Dobie's "Rattlesnakes" and a few others here and there. Nothing really terribly valuable or collectable, but nice books that I'll enjoy having on my shelf.

One of the books I picked up was a regrettably dustjacketless first-edition (1939) copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Huntsman, What Quarry?" with an inscription that read "For Lucille, Damn the Torpedoes! Doris, 1944."

I love finding old books with cryptic inscriptions like that. Stokes the imagination. Most of them seem to have something to do with love, either its confounding mystery and vexation or its abiding power .

I don't know what inside joke Doris and Lucille had in mind back in '44, but it was a nice gift, from a time when the act of giving a book perhaps meant a little more than it does now. At any rate, I've been reading through the collection a bit, specifically the title poem, "Huntsman, What Quarry?" which reads thusly, and I'd like to offer my thoughts below...

"Huntsman, what quarry
On the dry hill
Do your hounds harry?

When the red oak is bare
And the white oak still
Rattles its leaves
In the cold air:
What fox runs there?"

"Girl, gathering acorns
In the cold autumn,
I hunt the hot pads
That ever run before,
I hunt the pointed mask
That makes no reply,
I hunt the red brush
Of remembered joy."

"To tame or to destroy?"

"To destroy."

"Huntsman, hard by
In a wood of grey beeches
Whose leaves are on the ground,
Is a house with a fire;
You can see the smoke from here.
There's supper and soft bed
And not a soul around.
Come with me there;
Bide there with me;
And let the fox run free."

The horse that he rode on
Reached down its neck,
Blew upon the acorns,
nuzzled them aside;
The sun was near setting;
He thought, "Shall I heed her?"
He thought, "Shall I take her
For a one-night's bride?"

He smelled the sweet smoke,
He looked the lady over;
Her hand was on his knee;
But like a flame from cover
The red fox broke-
And "Hoick! Hoick!" cried he.

Dude, you're an idiot...

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