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 lie 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 clap the dogs and take 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 noisy streets. He turns about to face the loud uproar And drives the rebels to their very door. The frequent stone is hurled where e’er they go; When badgers fight, then every one’s 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, demure and small, He fights with dogs for bones 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 drives 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, an awkward race, But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase. He turns again and drives the noisy 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 again; 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.
John Clare (1793-1864) was born in the Northamptonshire village of Helpston and attended school there until he was around eleven years old after which he was largely self-taught. Clare’s first book of poetry, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820), was well-received, and his work was extremely popular with the public. In the 1830s, however, his popularity faded — a problem his publishers tried to correct by standardizing his verses into what they considered to be more contemporary poetic conventions. In 1842, Clare was confined in the Northampton County Asylum where he spent the rest of his life.