God knows what it cost you to control

Your temper, make a velvet paw the rule,

Curb your savage instinct and remain

Impervious to the scent of human blood.

How could you walk to heel beside a master

Weaker than you were and agree to come

Bounding at his whistle from your cage

Or at his word return behind its bars?

What did you hope to gain as his retriever,

Relinquishing the duck when he said drop it,

Your jaws relaxed while nuzzling his hand?

Today, for all the odds were on the likelihood

You'd lay the wildest low, you lie here dead:

Not ambushed and surrounded by attackers,

Not hampered by a net or by a snare,

Not launched into a spring against a spear,

Not hoaxed by matted twigs above a pit,

But broken by a creature as it ran from you.

Your cage is free, but you will not return,

While brother lions pace behind locked doors

And shiver at the ignominy done to you.

Their manes droop, they seem ashamed to look,

As hooks are fixed to tow away your corpse;

And now their foreheads wrinkle into frowns.



That blow which brought about this sorry state

Did not entirely blot you out immediately:

Your courage seemed to kindle at your fall

And hauled your spirit back to loose a roar

And gnash your grinders; menacing in death

As you had never been from day to day.

You seemed a soldier, knowing he was done for,

Though struggling to block the hostile's path

With hand upraised despite his failing blade.

Leonine, you tottered, robbed of pride,

Yet forcing further roars and harder eyes

While gasping for your prey as for your breath.

And though a moment later you fell down,

A rich reward goes with you from the ring:

As if you were some gladiator then,

The star of several seasons, now a carcass

Measuring your length in sprinkled sand,

The mob groaned, the Senate heaved a sigh,

And it was sad to see you pulled away.

And when you think of tigers we have seen

From Scythia, and Libyan panthers too,

Bears from beyond the Rhine and aurochs herds

From Egypt whose demise is no to-do,

Consider, lion, what effect you had

Upon our Ruler, who has seen it all.

You moved him: I saw moisture in his eyes.


For a link to another poem from the book, an introductory essay and an in-depth review click here