‘Jugged Hare’ appears among a group of ‘new poems’ included in Earle’s Selected Poems, published in 1990. The title refers to a traditional way of cooking game or fish, in which the whole animal, cut into large pieces, is stewed slowly in a sealed pot. Conventionally the dish is thickened with the hare’s own blood, and served with port, a sweet fortified (red) wine. It is worth knowing that a number of ancient cultures ascribed the hare sacred or magical powers, and that – as well as being widely constructed in folklore as a trickster, sometimes benign, sometimes not – in classical sources the animal is associated (along with rabbits) with love and its deities.
‘Jugged Hare’ offers a touchingly detailed portrait of a mother remembered in the act of preparing the dish of the poem’s title for her husband. The poem uses the memories it recovers to examine as well as honour the creative purpose and determination of the woman it places centre stage, while obliquely protesting at the way her domestic circumstances define and seem to confine her. It is tempting to imagine that the voice of the poem belongs to Jean Earle herself, and that the woman under scrutiny is the poet’s own mother, but there is no direct or explicit evidence of this link. It does not seem particularly helpful to tie any of the characters to an actual family context or story.
For the most part, the poem’s language is direct and straightforward; it uses the vocabulary of the child who reports the events it recounts. Towards its end, as the speaker’s perspective shifts to that of the adult recovering a childhood memory, the word use grows more sophisticated.
‘Jugged Hare’ is lightly, rather than elaborately, formal. It falls roughly into two halves. Each half comprises three loosely built stanzas (or parts), each one ‘end-stopped’, or brought to a distinct and definite close by a full stop. The two halves are separated from each other by the single isolated line which marks the poem’s centre.
The first three stanzas, which introduce the scene, the woman, and the process she is absorbed in, are all six lines long. The last three stanzas, in which the poem’s reflection on that peaceful domestic scene grows broader and implicitly darker, are seven, nine and five lines long respectively. In this variance, the poem’s form helps to trouble both the apparently calm scene it starts by describing, and the relationship that the meal seems intended to celebrate.