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The Hag -- Robert Herrick

A poem for All Hallows' Eve:
(Poem #593) The Hag
      The hag is astride
      This night for to ride,
 The devil and she together;
      Through thick and through thin,
      Now out and then in,
 Though ne'er so foul be the weather.

      A thorn or a burr
      She takes for a spur,
 With a lash of a bramble she rides now;
      Through brakes and through briars,
      O'er ditches and mires,
 She follows the spirit that guides now.

      No beast for his food
      Dare now range the wood,
 But hush'd in his lair he lies lurking;
      While mischiefs, by these,
      On land and on seas,
 At noon of night are a-working.

      The storm will arise
      And trouble the skies;
 This night, and more for the wonder,
      The ghost from the tomb
      Affrighted shall come,
 Call'd out by the clap of the thunder.
-- Robert Herrick
A wonderfully spooky poem, perfect for Halloween. I first read it at the age
of seven(ish), in a children's anthology titled (rather immodestly)
'SuperBook'. More than the poem, though, I was captivated at the time by the
accompanying illustration, by Victor Ambrus... come to think of it, that was
probably the first Ambrus picture I'd ever seen. Now, though, he forms a
cherished part of my bookshelf - King Arthur, Robin Hood, the Arabian
Nights, all those gorgeous Hamlyn titles would be completely different
without Ambrus' distinctive style to further their enchantment.

Regarding the poem itself I have not much to say. Herrick's verse, as
always, is possessed of a remarkable felicity of rhythm and rhyme; the
scansion is effortless, the alliteration unobtrusive yet effective, and the
words - rather, the _sounds_ of the words - remain clear in your mind long
after the mere sense is forgotten... if, like me, you delight in technical
mastery for its own sake, you'll love this poem.


PS. Aren't you glad we've stopped running sonnets? I know I am <grin>.


A biography, critical assessment, and links to several archives of Herrick
poems can be found at poem #398

Here's an example of Victor Ambrus' magical art:


 - also called ALL HALLOWS' EVE or ALL HALLOWS' EVENING: a holy or hallowed
evening observed on October 31, the eve of All Saints' Day. In modern times,
it is the occasion for pranks and for children requesting treats or
threatening tricks.

In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain eve was
observed on October 31, at the end of summer. This date was also the eve of
the new year in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times and was the occasion for
one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to
frighten away evil spirits. The date was connected with the return of herds
from pasture, and laws and land tenures were renewed. The souls of the dead
were thought to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival
acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black
cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the
time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature.
In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for
divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death.

        -- EB

30 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

zac chamberlin said...

hello, my name is zac c. not sure if your goina get this or not, but here goes nothin anyways. Im a 15 [soon to be 16] year old boy living in VT. Regarding your poem, The Hag, do you know what this is through experience? i myself get this phenomena very often. Its the most frightening thing that exists. The other night it got worse too, i was lying on my stomach and i awoke when she was tapping the back of my foot and saying "hi hi hi hi hi" like a little girl almost. And then i could see a figure walk infront of me. Again, im not sure if you will get this, but i want to know if you have experienced anything like this and if so, what i can do to maybe rid of it.

Much appreciated, Zac

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Excellent! it would be perfect to be told during a Halloween celebration, I can see you have a bizarre way to write, I think If I was a poet I'd write poems like these.m10m

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The over-riding message of Herrick’s work is that life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it. This message can be seen clearly in To the Virgins, to make much of Time, To Daffodils, To Blossoms and Corinna going a-Maying.

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Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed re-reading The Hag, as I recall singing this in a choir amongst many other school ones at The Royal Festival Hall during the celebration of the Festival of Britain in 1951. That ages me, doesn't it?

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