rural community with detailed descriptions of around seventy men and women, revealing minute characterisation in great detail. Muriel Spark commented:
…the apparently random selection of trivia is in reality very deliberate. Small sensations are evoked, scraps of conversation recorded, to create the general feeling of something about to begin…11
Masefield’s method has led many to complain of too much detail. J. Middleton Murry noted that:
Masefield… seems almost to shovel English mud into his pages; he cannot (and rightly cannot) persuade himself that the scent of the mud will be there otherwise.12
True, Masefield doesn’t use and develop his entire cast and we are apparently subjected to much detail that will remain unused. For Fraser Drew, however, this richness of background shows the breadth of Masefield’s canvas and for Spark ‘precision’ is ‘one of the most satisfactory things about the poem’ for ‘everything is named’ and this ‘gives plausibility and an edge to verbal texture’.13
It is worth noting, incidentally, that the community is so well imagined that Masefield returned to it in later works. Charles Cothill became the hero in the narrative poem Right Royal and a central figure in the novel The Hawbucks, for example.
Buried within Masefield’s extensive detail it slowly becomes obvious to the reader that the historical setting is an English community before 1914. Old soldiers are veterans of South Africa and the Afghan border, not of the trenches of the Great War. Masefield’s nostalgia has a purpose. To claim that the poem is a response to the Great War is not to suggest that it accommodates the new horrors of modern war. Its historical setting demonstrates Masefield’s nostalgia for a lost country childhood (denied to him by the Conway, bartending in New York and work in a Yonkers carpet factory), and places a hunted and desperate creature within the community that went to war in 1914. The pursuit of the fox within Masefield’s nostalgic setting is a deliberate response to the atrocities of the Great War.
Masefield’s nostalgia also leads him to Chaucer. The ‘Prologue’ to The Canterbury Tales is evident as a model for the first part of Reynard the Fox. Many of Chaucer’s characters are re-interpreted by Masefield – the Wife of Bath becomes the Parson’s Wife, for example, but Masefield, although using Chaucerian diction (note the use of Chaucer’s adjective ‘verray’ for Masefield’s description of Charles Copse as ‘very red rose flower’), resists slavish reincar-