Friday, September 2, 2011

The White-Footed Deer

I first read this poem in a book of storytelling poems edited by Frances Olcott. It tells a story indeed. One year we had two albino deer in the woods in our area. They were ghostly and breathtaking. It never occurred to my husband to shoot them; unfortunately both were taken by others in that season's hunt and I have wondered since that time if the shooting of those magical animals brought ill luck to those hunters.

The White-Footed Deer
by William Cullen Bryant 

It was a hundred years ago,
When, by the woodland ways,
The traveller saw the wild deer drink,
Or crop the birchen sprays.

Beneath a hill, whose rocky side
O'erbrowed a grassy mead,
And fenced a cottage from the wind,
A deer was wont to feed.

She only came when on the cliffs
The evening moonlight lay,
And no man knew the secret haunts
In which she walked by day.

White were her feet, her forehead showed
A spot of silvery white,
That seemed to glimmer like a star
In autumn's hazy night.

And here, when sang the whippoorwill,
She cropped the sprouting leaves,
And here her rustling steps were heard
On still October eves.


But when the broad midsummer moon
Rose o'er that grassy lawn,
Beside the silver-footed deer
There grazed a spotted fawn.

The cottage dame forbade her son
To aim the rifle here;
"It were a sin," she said, "to harm
Or fright that friendly deer.

"This spot has been my pleasant home
Ten peaceful years and more;
And ever, when the moonlight shines,
She feeds before our door.

"The red men say that here she walked
A thousand moons ago;
They never raise the war-whoop here,
And never twang the bow.

"I love to watch her as she feeds,
And think that all is well
While such a gentle creature haunts
The place in which we dwell."

The youth obeyed, and sought for game
In forests far away,
Where, deep in silence and in moss,
The ancient woodland lay.

But once, in autumn's golden time,
He ranged the wild in vain,
Nor roused the pheasant nor the deer,
And wandered home again.

The crescent moon and crimson eve
Shone with a mingling light;
The deer, upon the grassy mead,
Was feeding full in sight.

He raised the rifle to his eye,
And from the cliffs around
A sudden echo, shrill and sharp,
Gave back its deadly sound.

Away into the neighbouring wood
The startled creature flew,
And crimson drops at morning lay
Amid the glimmering dew.

Next evening shone the waxing moon
As sweetly as before;
The deer upon the grassy mead
Was seen again no more.

But ere that crescent moon was old,
By night the red men came,
And burnt the cottage to the ground,
And slew the youth and dame.

Now woods have overgrown the mead,
And hid the cliffs from sight;
There shrieks the hovering hawk at noon,
And prowls the fox at night.




2 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

What I get from this poem is that the white man was out of touch with the mystical world of nature. Son't know if that is the meaning. thanks for the good read -- barbara

Granny Sue said...

Yes, that's what I get too, Barb--or perhaps not white men in general, but this particular one did not pay attention to the ways of nature or respect the magic that the natives understood.

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