A poem about… deer? June 1, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Anne Boleyn, deer, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth Rex, Henry VIII, Thomas Wyatt
Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshops. Wordless Wednesdays. Even, apparently, Garden Bloggers’ Death Day (pertaining, we hope, to dead plants, not an unfortunate trend among garden bloggers). Our friend Ben’s somewhat feeble wits are boggled by the number of structured theme posts available to the garden blogging community. But one that always catches my eye is Garden Bloggers’ Muse Day, which I deduce is the first of every month and involves posting a garden-related poem. I’m mostly aware of this because Nancy of Soliloquy (http://nancybond.wordpress.com/) is really good about posting a garden poem a month (and moreover, one that relates to that month), but apparently it originated with Carolyn Gail Choi of of Sweet Home and Garden Chicago (http://sweethomeandgardenchicago.blogspot.com/).
Whatever the case, June is a month in which many gardeners are either cursing deer depredations in their gardens, trying to find deer-proof plants for their gardens, or checking out deer fences and other supposedly deer-repelling devices for their gardens. (Our friend Ben suggests getting a dog.) Drivers—at least around here—are cursing car-crashing deer in a manner which puts even the most irate gardener to shame. Hunters are setting out salt blocks and checking out resident populations. And romantic types who don’t garden are oohing and aahing when they see a deer in the woods along the roadside or, gasp, in their own backyards.
Through human history, deer have been perceived in many ways, as a source of sustenance, a worthy opponent, a majestic emblem, a figure of legend, a creature of kings. (Through much of European history, deer could only be hunted by the nobility and posession of a deer by a “commoner” was a hanging offense.) A deer sighting in Arthurian legend was fraught with significance, for deer were seldom what they seemed. But however they were viewed, there was always something otherworldly about them, something usually pertaining to the fairy realm, the time between times when daylight is giving way to dark and magic is at large, when anything can happen. (Appropriate enough, since deer are crepuscular creatures, most active at dusk.) A white deer was always a sign of magic, and despite the claims of the narwhal was probably the origin of the legend of the unicorn. And a black deer signified magic as well.
Our friend Ben has actually seen a black deer—a majestic buck leading a group of does through the woods. And yes, it was magic. I’ve also been fortunate as a driver, having never hit a deer in the road, and as a gardener, since deer have never ventured onto our property. Unfortunately, though, thanks to modern medicine, the association our friend Ben most often draws with deer these days is deer ticks and Lyme disease, which is prevalent in this rural part of Pennsylvania. We’re having our puppy Shiloh vaccinated for Lyme and are also applying Frontline, a topical tick repellant, monthly just in case. Poor deer, to have come to this!
But about that poem. Let’s return to the days when deer still were embued with magic and were the exclusive property of kings. Specifically, to the time of that great rogue Henry VIII, and a poem one of the prominent poets of that age wrote about a deer. Or, at least, it appeared to be about a deer, also known then as a hind. Do you know who wrote it, and who it was about? Our friend Ben will add the answer tomorrow so no one needs to remain in doubt. Right now, however, let me note that the key line, Noli me tangere, means “don’t touch me” or, in modern parlance, “hands off!” And “list” in this case doesn’t mean the alleys where knights jousted or a sheet of paper with the weekly groceries but rather, simply, ”wants” or “desires.”
Here’s the famous (and at the time, infamous) poem, a poem that despite its seeming innocence sent its author to the Tower of London and almost cost him his life:
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain;
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written her fair neck round about,
‘Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.’
“Wild for to hold” indeed this particular deer proved. So wild, that all of Europe teetered in the attempt, and the world has never been the same. So wild, that the fawn she produced rose to heights never equalled before or since, unless the sun itself (in the form of Louis XIV, the Sun King) eclipsed her in the end. For us moderns, the poem remains as a haunting prelude to all that was to come.
(Answers, as promised: Thomas Wyatt wrote the poem. His hind was Anne Boleyn, and Caesar was, of course, Henry VIII himself.)