The Leaping Hare – George Ewart Evans and David Thompson

Currently about half way through this book – a fascinating read which looks at the myths and realities of this fantastic creature. The authors have really gone the extra mile here, as the book is packed with verbatim accounts from old countrymen and women who have had generations of experience living alongside these creatures. Who would have thought it’s flesh was so despised as food by those who had little enough to eat that any meat should have been welcome? And yet when killed, the Hare was inevitably sold for cash, rabbit meat, more plentiful being preferred, the Hare being too dark and bloody.
Bob Copper from Sussex sings this –
I keep my dogs and I keep my ferrets,
I have them in my keeping
To catch those hares that run by night
While the gamekeepers lie sleeping.
My dogs and I went out on a cold night
For to view the habitation.
Up jumped a hare and away she did run
Straight into a plantation.

She had not gone a long way in
When something caught her running.
So loudly then I heard her cry
For she knew the dogs were coming.

I took my knife all in my hand,
So quickly for to paunch her.
She was one of the female kind
How glad I was I’d caught her.

Then I’ll go down to some alehouse near
And I’ll drink that hare quite mellow.
I’ll spend a crown and a merry crown too
And say, “I’m a right good fellow.”

the line about drinking the Hare suggesting he has sold the game and drinks the profit rather than her health – or are the two both implied?
Here’s an engraving I did years ago, the Hare makes a noble and bold figure with it’s long darl tipped ears and stillness, before it dashes at phenomenal speed across the fields, and how often too it seems to run out onto the road in front of the car to speed ahead before turning off into a field.
Here’s Jon Boden singing Hunting the Hare from his folk song a day project.
Often in folksong the Hare is given the power of narrative and laments its own demise at the hands of hunters and their hounds, a strangely sympathetic tone..

They hunted me up and they hunted me down
At the loop of the burn they did me surround
When up come the huntsman to end all the strife
He says, Leave the hare down and give her play for her life

Bad luck to all sportsmen, to Bowman and Ringwood
They sprinkled the plain with my innocent blood
They let Reynard go free, that cunning old fox
That ate up all the chickens, fat hens and game cocks

Yes now I’m for dying but I know not the crime
To the value of sixpence I ne’er wronged mankind
I never was given to rob or to steal
All the harm that I ever done was crop the heads of green kale

and especially here in this section of the Granemore Hare..

Last night as I lay content in the glen
It was little I thought about dogs or of men
But when going home at the clear light of day
I could hear the long dogs at Young Tornerdon bay

And it being so early I stopped for a while
It was little I thought they were going to meet Coyle
If I had known that I’d have lain near the town
Or tried to get clear ’round those dogs from May Down

And now I am dying, the sport is all done
No more through the green fields ’round Cady I run
Nor feed in the glen on the cold winter’s night
Or go home to my den when it’s breaking daylight

Something I’d not come across until recently, the Three Hares, a mystical motif found across Europe and the Far East.
Note how the three Hares only have three ears, yet each have a pair. Beautiful symmetry.
Clearly these extraordinary creatures have long had a hold over our imaginations. Long may they continue to do so.

This entry was posted in Books, Country Pursuits, Folklore / Custom, Illustration and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Leaping Hare – George Ewart Evans and David Thompson

  1. Cassie says:

    I should get this book for my best friend who has moved to NZ. She says the scariest creatures living around her are large hares, haha. Thanks for sharing.

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