Demise of the Lion King: A Poem
Even mighty lions and bulls will soon be dust
Demise of the King
When I composed this poem some time back, I was going through a particularly difficult time and was sort of studying various poetic disciplines. I found this form which is quite old, I believe, and used by Ralph Hodgson in a marvellous poem about an old bull.
I decided to use it in a similar theme in this work about an old lion. It was not easy fitting into a straight-jacket like this without plagiarizing the original, as the fate of the lion and the bull take a similar path, using like words and phrases, (which is why I publish them both together so you can see what I am doing). and it may have made the poem a little stilted, but it was one of the longest poems I have ever written.
I hope someone out there likes it, because what happened to the lion and the bull will happen to all of us very soon. Hope we can opt for a way out that doesn’t include mambas, though!
I have printed Hodgson’s incredible poem after mine, in order that you can see how I used this work. I could not do as well as this marvellous literary figure, as you will see, but I had fun trying!
Ralph Hodgson was an English, Georgian poet, who died in 1962 and was known for several poems such as the one we publish today. He was an animal right’s activist who lived in Japan, finally moving to the United States, where he spent his last years.
Note for poets. I suspect Hodgson had the same problem I did in using this awkward form to describe the moments of his dying bull. The 4 stressed lines and six-line stanzas make the substance a slave to the style, or discipline. One day, I may do "Demise" again in free verse, or some other form that has thrown the bra. away!
Demise of the King
(From "Charged Particles")
by R C de M.
The old lion sat on a hill.
Like a pig he grubbed for roots;
Beetles, slugs and bitter shoots.
Much to weak to hunt and kill;
No more wanted in the pride;
Grumbles on the mountainside.
Eagles circling overhead;
Monkeys chattering in the trees;
Busy lines of velvet bees.
Parrots flashing green and red;
Jackals snarling by the kill,
A hunt that was another’s thrill.
Vultures watching from the trees:
Squabbling, these obscene fowls,
Like some ring of hooded ghouls,
Waiting for the king’s demise.
For then another gory feast
That marks the end of every beast.
Nearby, the deadly Mamba peeps,
Curled around a rotten stem,
Like some rajah’s diadem.
Staring as the lion sleeps;
Knowing in his patient wait,
All that live succumb to fate.
The lion’s slumber fills with dreams:
Glorious leader of the pride,
Nothing was to him denied.
Nothing stays the same it seems:
Pride leaders; all chieftains must,
Become in time merely dust.
He dreams about that final day
The black-maned prince bested him.
The pride council, looking grim,
Banished him and stalked away.
Left him standing in a trance;
Not one gave a backward glance.
Abandoned, he who was their king;
He who fought and bled for them;
He who nearly died for them…
His roar that made the mountains ring.
Deserted, without a single thought;
Was this the end that valor bought?
The old lion dreamed of better days:
Memories of conquest’s pain.
He slowly came to life again.
Noble was his regal gaze:
Once again he led the pride,
King of all the mountainside!
Throwing back his head he roared!
The tree tops echoed with the sound,
Reverberating round and round.
Peregrine and eagle soared…
Then wearily his head sank down;
An emperor who lost his crown.
Ah, memory, that’s the rub:
This half-blind, toothless wreck;
sagging back and hanging neck.
Remembers when just a cub,
Suckling on his mother’s teat;
Gumming chunks of bloody meat.
Recalls the day when first he killed:
The heady taste of scalding blood,
Replacing his mother’s nub.
With meat and sinew, belly filled;
Growing stronger by the day,
Until no beast could tell him “Stay.”
Pampas bull and rhino turned:
No beast dared to stand and fight:
Face steely claws and iron bite.
Weep for him, alone and spurned;
Confused, uncertain in the sun,
This final battle never won.
Sigh for him in all his grief:
That might roar just a moan,
This comic bag of hide and bone.
Gross parody, once greatest chief.
Watch him, scarecrow of the hill;
Waiting for his heart to still.
Faint visions yet of places far.
Recaptures all, eyes cast down.
Where the prince who stole his crown?
Forsaken by his lucky star:
His rheumy eyes growing dim;
His old legs shaking under him.
He swings his head, questing nose
Stirs the heap of sun-dried bone
Where the mamba makes his home.
Disturbs the serpent’s light repose,
Oblivious to the warning hiss;
His throat receives the deadly kiss.
The vultures on the baobab tree
Watch the lion’s drooping head,
Knew that he would soon be dead,
Pounced, with ugly raucous glee.
The ruler died in peace at last,
Dreaming of his glorious past.
The Old Bull
See an old unhappy bull,
Sick in soul and body both,
Slouching in the undergrowth
Of the forest beautiful,
Banished from the herd he led,
Bulls and cows a thousand head.
Cranes and gaudy parrots go
Up and down the burning sky;
Tree-top cats purr drowsily
In the dim-day green below;
And troops of monkeys, nutting, some,
All disputing, go and come;
And things abominable sit
Picking offal buck or swine,
On the mess and over it
Burnished flies and beetles shine,
And spiders big as bladders lie
Under hemlocks ten foot high;
And a dotted serpent curled
Round and round and round a tree,
Yellowing its greenery,
Keeps a watch on all the world,
ALl the world and this old bull
In the forest beautiful.
Bravely by his fall he came:
One he led, a bull of blood
Newly come to lustihood,
Fought and put his prince to shame,
Snuffed and pawed the prostrate head
Tameless even while it bled.
There they left him, every one,
Left him there without a lick,
Left him for the birds to pick,
Left him there for carrion,
Vilely from their bosom cast
Wisdom, worth and love at last.
When the lion left his lair
And roared his beauty through the hills,
And the vultures pecked their quills
And flew into the middle air,
Then this prince no more to reign
Came to life and lived again.
He snuffed the herd in far retreat,
He saw the blood upon the ground,
And snuffed the burning airs around
Still with beevish odours sweet,
While the blood ran down his head
And his mouth ran slaver red.
Pity him, this fallen chief,
All his spendour, all his strength,
All his body's breadth and length
Dwindled down with shame and grief,
Half the bull he was before,
Bones and leather, nothing more.
See him standing dewlap-deep
In the rushes at the lake,
Surly, stupid, half asleep,
Waiting for his heart to break
And the birds to join the flies
Feasting at his bloodshot eyes, --
Standing with his head hung down
In a stupor dreaming things:
Green savannas, jungles brown,
Battlefields and bellowings,
Bulls undone and lions dead
And vultures flapping overhead.
Dreaming things: of days he spent
With his mother gaunt and lean
In the valley warm and green,
Full of baby wonderment,
Blinking out of silly eyes
At a hundred mysteries;
Dreaming over once again
How he wandered with a throng
Of bulls and cows a thousand strong,
Wandered on from plain to plain,
Up the hill and down the dale,
Always at his mother's tail;
How he lagged behind the herd,
Lagged and tottered, weak of limb,
And she turned and ran to him
Blaring at the loathly bird
Stationed always in the skies,
Waiting for the flesh that dies.
Dreaming maybe of a day
When her drained and drying paps
Turned him to the sweets and saps,
Richer fountains by the way,
And she left the bull she bore
And he looked on her no more;
And his little frame grew stout,
And his little legs grew strong,
And the way was not so long;
And his little horns came out,
And he played at butting trees
And boulder-stones and tortoises,
Joined a game of knobby skulls
With the youngsters of his year,
All the other little bulls,
Learning both to bruise and bear,
Learning how to stand a shock
Like a little bull of rock.
Dreaming of a day less dim,
Dreaming of a time less far,
When the faint but certain star
Of destiny burned clear for him,
And a fierce and wild unrest
Broke the quiet of his breast,
And the gristles of his youth
Hardened in his comely pow,
And he came to fighting growth,
Beat his bull and won his cow,
And flew his tail and trampled off
Past the tallest, vain enough,
And curved about in spendour full
And curved again and snuffed the airs
As who should say Come out who dares!
And all beheld a bull, a Bull,
And knew that here was surely one
That backed for no bull, fearing none.
And the leader of the herd
Looked and saw, and beat the ground,
And shook the forest with his sound,
Bellowed at the loathly bird
Stationed always in the skies,
Wating for the flesh that dies.
Dreaming, this old bull forlorn,
Surely dreaming of the hour
When he came to sultan power,
And they owned him master-horn,
Chiefest bull of all among
Bulls and cows a thousand strong.
And in all the tramping herd
Not a bull that barred his way,
Not a cow that said him nay,
Not a bull or cow that erred
In the furnace of his look
Dared a second, worse rebuke;
Not in all the forest wide,
Jungle, thicket, pasture, fen,
Not another dared him then,
Dared him and again defied;
Not a sovereign buck or boar
Came a second time for more.
Not a serpent that survived
Once the terrors of his hoof
Risked a second time reproof,
Came a second time and lived,
Not serpent in its skin
Came again for discipline;
Not a leopard brght as flame,
Flashing fingerhooks of steel,
That a wooden tree might feel,
Met his fury once and came
For second reprimand,
Not a leopard in the land.
Not a lion of them all,
Not a lion of the hills,
Hero of a thousand kills,
Dared a second fight and fall,
Dared that ram terrific twice,
Paid a second time the price. . . .
Pity him, this dupe of dream,
Leader of the heard again
Only in his daft old brain,
Once again the bull supreme
And bull enough to bear the part
Only in his tameless heart.
Pity him that he must wake;
Even now the swarm of flies
Blackening his bloodshot eyes
Bursts and blusters round the lake,
Scattered from the feast half-fed,
By great shadows overhead.
And the dreamer turns away
From his visionary herds
And his splendid yesterday,
Turns to meet the loathly birds
Flocking round him from the skies,
Waiting for the flesh that dies.