In my eighth book Marriage there's a sequence called 'Lepus', and here the hare, dissatisfied with an occasional appearance in my work, has elbowed her way centrestage. The titles are taken from section headings in a work by John Layard called the Lady and the Hare, a book I've been reading on and off since I was in my teens. It's both a psychoanalytical study of a woman who was having hare dreams and a cultural history of the hare. In legend, of course, the hare was often said to be a witch's familiar, and this poem is called 'The hare as witch animal'.

The hare as witch animal

‘I can use any one of the nine God-given portals
to slip inside the old bitch, catch
her dozing on the settle,
knees at a bawdy angle, her hand still clutching the bottle,
then wake her and take her out
to fret their corn with mould and leave their cattle
hamstrung amid the eyebright and the vetch.

While she’s stripped and whipped I go to ground,
hunkered beneath her ribs but in fine fettle
(since you ask) and alive to the cries and laughter as they fetch
the stool and bring her tethered to the pond
under a sudden rain of stones and spittle.

It’s sink or swim for Mother Dark; I’ve already found
the back way out. Look, there I go at full stretch
between magic and mortal.’

from Marriage (Faber, 2002), © David Harsent 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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