1500 Stitches: diverse arts of Margaret Wolseley

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The Lady to Her Favorite Hound

Come, sweet! I bear thee gifts and morsels true:
Cunning embroidered leashes and collar,
Thy name worked in gold on a field of blue,
The tender roast pheasant thou dost prefer.
What, chuck? Dost thou display such disregard,
Ignoring thy mistress's outstretched hand
To break from thy handler, rush to the yard,
Insensible to every clear command?

Last week ye keened at sight of me, so great
Was thine joy of the hunt. Whenst thou set forth
The very hills did reverberate
With the music of the hounds and horns.
And when returnéd weary and footsore,
I bade mine boy brush thee and oil thy feet.
With thine brown eyes thou pledged love evermore
As with thy tail a-wagging thou didst greet
And upon my knee incline thy head,
Mine darling, mine beauty, mine favored hound:
The gentlest huntress by my stables bred,
Whose lithesome speed in chase doth all astound.

Such sorry change! Witness ye hump the curs
From this to that on indecorous whims
Thine swollen rump displayed, thine moistened furs.
Musky odor clogs the air with thine attempts
To excite the lusts of thine animal kind.
Yet thou answereth studs with snarls of wrath
And mine own sweet touch with teeth declined -
Thou art as witless as the Wife of Bath!
But thou, fool pup, art in thy youthful flower,
Whilst she's a damaged, dried-out side of beef.
Thou shouldst be sheltered in this carnal hour,
Kenneled till thy lustful madness cease.



I composed "The Lady to Her Favorite Hound" for the Duke Gyrth Oldcastle Memorial Smackdown at the 2011 Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival. That year, we each adopted a historic persona (mine was Queen Elizabeth of York) and wrote from her perspective. We were given the names of two other participant's chosen characters, and were to praise one entrant and "smack" a second. This is my poem smacking the fictional person the Wife of Bath, from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The poetic forms of the late fifteen and early sixteenth centuries were, to our post-Elizabethan sensibilities, rough. Although they commonly formed rhymed couplets (AABBCC etc.) or quatrains (ABAB) and many poems had vaguely consistent syllable counts per line, lines often lacked metrically consistent feet or patterns of emphasis. Writers still emulated Chaucer, dead a century prior [1] . I deliberately made lines stumble and rhymes slant, though my poetic training usually pushes me toward neat iambs. To prepare myself, I read works by John Skelton (1460-1529), trying to get the "sounds" of Shakespeare and Donne out of my head. After composing the story, I skimmed dictionaries of antique English words, substituting where possible to push my language back closer to 1500. I did not, however, attempt to use the highly variable spellings of the time, as I find them impossible to read smoothly.

My experiences rearing animals of diverse species influence the conversation in this verse. Although I cannot document ladies owning hunting dogs, the pampering of dogs described in the poem was common. I imagine that a lady might take pride in the dogs from her family's kennels, even if not permitted to ride into the hunt herself. Forsyth writes about appropriate care of hunting dogs, citing medieval books on the subject:

It is proper at times to speak to the dogs, "for they rejoice to hear the voice of their master." Gaston Phoebus recommends that the huntsman speak to his hounds "in the most beautiful and gracious language that he can, especially when the weather is bad or the hounds are hunting over a difficult country for they will be much comforted and encouraged." The kennelman "must be both gracious and courteous, gentle and naturally fond of dogs; good on foot and in wind, as well able to fill his horn as his bottle," according to a sixteenth-century hunter du Fouilloux. The lord looked after his hounds better than his serfs. On returning from a hunt the hounds were to be littered with fresh hay, "their feet well greased and given sops and well eased for pity of their labor." [2]

I imagine the dog in this story as a young female greyhound, prized offspring of a fine lineage, valued by the lady for her companionship and by the lord for her hunting skill. Greyhounds are common in tapestries of hunting scenes, and Forsyth describes their purported temperament:

The greyhound was the constant companion of his master and the emblem of faithfulness, "courteous and not too fierce, courageous and lively, glad and joyful and playful, well willing to all manner of folke save to wild beasts to whom he should be fierce, eager and spiteful." [3]

I have kept company with the greyhounds of friends, and I held both my experiences and the medieval ideal of the greyhound in mind as I wrote.


1.  Abrams, M. H., ed. Norton Anthology of English Literature , Fifth Ed. Vol. 1. W. W. Norton & Company, 1962: 214.

2.  Forsyth, William H., "The Medieval Stag Hunt." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin , New Series, Vol. 10, No. 7 (Mar., 1952): 206.

3.  Forsyth: 207.