The badger grunting on
his woodland track
With shaggy hide and sharp nose scrowed with black
Roots in the bushes and the woods, and makes
A great high burrow in the ferns and brakes
With nose on ground he runs an awkward pace
And anything will beat him in the race.
The shepherd's dog will run him to his den
Followed and hooted by the dogs and men.
The woodman when the hunting comes about
Goes round at night to stop the foxes out
And hurrying through the bushes to the chin
Breaks the old holes, and tumbles headlong in.
When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den
And put a sack within the hole and lye
Till the old grunting badger passes bye
He comes and hears they let the strongest loose
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry
And the old hare half wounded buzzes bye
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clapt the dogs and bore him to the town
And bait him all the day with many dogs
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs
He runs along and bites at all he meets
They shout and hollo down the noisey streets.
He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very doors
The frequent stone is hurled where ere they go
When badgers fight and every ones a foe
The dogs are clapt and urged to join the fray
The badger turns and drives them all away
Though scarcely half as big dimute and small
He fights with dogs for hours and beats them all
The heavy mastiff savage in the fray
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drive[s] the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through the drunkard swears and reels.
The frighted women take the boys away
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray
He tries to reach the woods a awkward race
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chace
He turns agen and drives the noisey crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud
He drives away and beats them every one
And then they loose them all and set them on
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd agen
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles groans and dies.
Some keep a baited badger tame as hog
And tame him till he follows like the dog.
They urge him on like dogs and show fair play
He beats and scarcely wounded goes away
Lapt up as if asleep, he scorns to fly
And seizes any dog that ventures nigh
Clapt like a dog, he never bites the men
But worries dogs and hurries to his den.
They let him out and turn a harrow down
And there he fights the host of all the town
He licks the patting hand, and tries to play
And never tries to bite or run away
And runs away from the noise in hollow trees
Burnt by the boys to get a swarm of bees.
Professor Eric Robinson says that Clare's poems about animals reflect his sense
of abandonment and persecution, and none more strongly than 'The Badger'1.
In it, he does not describe the badger, he is the badger; a wild half-mad
creature escaping from his hunters, running the gauntlet, hit by sticks and
stones, showing a vicious sort of courage and indomitable will in the face of
the village rabble.
1 Eric Robinson, John Clare's Autobiographical Writings, Oxford University
Note from Norma Kearton:
I am indebted to Dr Richard Meyer for introducing me to
John Clare's poem via his book,
"The Fate of the Badger" published in 1986.
You can listen to Robert Pinsky reading 'The Badger'.