Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
The Lions
By Edwin Curran
THE JUNGLE glistens like a cloud—
  Purple-cool, tree-deep, lake-pearled;
Where lions lurk and thrash and crowd,
  Like lands that battle for the world.
Behold, one lion leaps for his prey,        5
  Trotting like a saffron mist,
As savage nations in our day
  Pounce on some weak antagonist.
Across the jungle-painted grass
  His roar breaks through the tropic air;        10
And he runs like a tawny flame—
  Swift yellow stroke of lightning there.
His cry is like the thunder’s sound,
  Shaking leaf and bough and bole;
And he is part of Africa—        15
  The yellow monarch in her soul.
Painted birds fly through the trees
  And stain the sky with brown on blue,
Hammering with their wings the breeze,
  Hitting songs across the dew.        20
Parrots gaudy as a star
  Tap their bells and chatter sound.
Each insect sweeps his dim guitar
  Like music hidden in the ground.
The tawny lion goes like a shot—        25
  A daub of gold against the green,
Scenting a wounded bleeding doe
  That he is following unseen.
A spangled serpent lights a tree,
  A coiling flame around it, curled;        30
But the old lion goes great and free,
  The master of his jungle world.
Bravely born and bravely bred,
  Proud as a diamond of his fire,
This yellow monarch of the south        35
  Goes like the hosts that swarmed to Tyre.
Hungry to kill, he scents the air,
  And roars into beginning night,
His blond mane tossing up its hair,
  His eyes two pools of blazing light.        40
He stops and lips the evening gale,
  Reading the wind across the trees;
Giant cat in his tawny mail,
  Spelling out the trail-warm breeze.
Then on he darts as though with wings,        45
  To find his prey and drink the blood
And feast upon the harmless things
  That God has put into the wood.
A gorilla slouches through the bush;
  A leopard’s eyes shoot stars of light;        50
The deep luxuriant forest hush
  Hides serpents beetle-colored, bright.
The crane nods sleeping, spindle-shanked;
  Gray monkeys troop and clack and peer;
A jungle stream goes emerald-banked,        55
  Purring like a wild-cat near.
The cinnamon-colored land awakes
  Around the lion fold on fold;
Yellowing with fruit, blue with lakes,
  Stuck with fireflies burnished gold.        60
Gray monkeys watch the lion and talk,
  Lassoing trees with leather tails;
Some far palms by the seaside walk,
  And near-by sing the nightingales.
The moon hangs like a petal of gold        65
  Broken upon the western sky.
The blue dusk deepens fold on fold,
  The shattered day lies down to die.
Here in this wild primeval place,
  Savage, wooded, poisonous, still,        70
Far from mankind and human face,
  The old lion goes to hunt and kill.
His prey is near, the scent is strong,
  He roars out in his ghastly mirth.
There, bleeding like a shattered song,        75
  His wounded doe is run to earth.
But as he leaps to take its throat
  A younger lion leaps up and cries;
And there the two lions stand like stone,
  The fires of ages in their eyes.        80
It took the centuries to make
  These lions’ sun-colored bodies bright,
These great-teethed felines from the brake,
  Tawny, crouching, cruel as night.
Their eyes turn red—these cats of brown        85
  Swift as wind, lithe as air,
Savage-maned and monarch-crowned,
  With blazing eyes and yellow hair.
The painted snake makes not a sound;
  The frightened birds shake in the tree:        90
Like two great russet clouds they bound,
  These monarchs, for the mastery.
The teak-tree groans, the gum is still,
  The coffee-tree nods to the duel;
An elephant calf stares from a hill,        95
  A lizard watches from a pool.
White silver moon, an eye of snow,
  Looks from the dusk with beauty hung,
Her pale lids open and aglow
  Where starry ladders are far-flung.        100
The lions’ steel sinews knot in cords;
  There is a crash of yellow forms;
The zebu and chimpanzee run;
  The jungle with the battle storms.
A roar that rocks the ground is heard,        105
  And monkeys chatter, parrots flee.
The coiled snake and the gaudy bird
  Slink from their everlasting tree.
The colors of the painted land
  All disappear as quick as light;        110
The great palms tremble, and the hand
  Of God draws over all the night.
The dotted turtles hunt the ground,
  Now rocking with the battling pair;
The night birds, startled, make no sound,        115
  The vultures scent the bloody air.
Hyenas wait to eat the dead
  And pick the polished bones and wail;
A python crawls with silken tread
  On silver plates of sliding mail.        120
The wild things of the jungle know
  A battle of the kings is on;
The zebras cry, the tree-cats yell;
  The tall giraffe has swiftly flown;
The spiders hang on polished webs—        125
  Greenish discs of jeweled light;
A frog is croaking in his well,
  The fireflies shower through the night.
The two huge cats are at their duel—
  Two yellow whirlwinds, hard as stones;        130
Snapping, biting, wild and cruel,
  Tearing flesh and crunching bones.
Jaws upraised and crashing shut,
  Lifting, sinking, slashing there;
Paws like razors slitting skin,        135
  Teeth like knives of white that tear.
The painted flowers drip with blood,
  The hiding snake is crushed below;
The lizard stamps into the ground;
  The trees shake as when whirlwinds blow.        140
The monkeys swing away and run;
  The wildcat looks and leaps away;
The leopard, spotted with the sun,
  Slides by into the mist of gray.
The poisonous flies have scented blood,        145
  And elephants have come to peer;
Ant-eaters look into the wood
  To see the battle of the year.
The scorpion squirms into the view,
  And things unspeakable, to see—        150
Speared and horned and crusted blue,
  The toad and reptile infantry.
The jungle sees the battle rage
  Intense, ferocious, swift and fast—
A terrible and an awful sight,        155
  So horrible toward the last
The lions have cowed the very night,
  And stunned the shadows and the trees:
A scuffle like the break of worlds,
  The shattering of centuries.        160
But the old lion shows greater skill,
  With harder blows and mastery;
His teeth were longer trained to kill,
  His strength upholds his majesty.
Yet the young lion is quick and strong—        165
  So wiry lithe he seems to float;
He worries the old lion for long—
  Till the old lion leaps at his throat.
They wave in battle, spinning round
  Together, snarling, thundering, bright,        170
Thrashing through the dry dead grass;
  Until the day has turned to night,
And left the young lion dead and still—
  In ribbons, mangled on the sod,
His broken body cold and chill—        175
  The old lion still his lord and god.
The old master of the forest stands
  With one paw on the fallen breast—
The monarch of the jungle lands
  Whose victory challenges the best.        180
A king is dead—long live the king!
  He roars, his eyes like coals aglow.
He calls his mate, a lioness there,
  To come and feast and eat the doe.
He calls his lady through the night,        185
  And she replies and comes to him,
Where the dead doe lies still and white,
  To banquet in the shadows dim:
Like nations, when the war is done,
  Who gather at the feasting board        190
To dine upon the hard-won prey,
  Each like a monarch and a lord.
The snake slips back into his tree,
  The monkeys chatter now in peace;
And over the blue woods there falls        195
  The age-old night of centuries.
The fireflies hang their lanterns back
  To star the dark; the beetles bell;
The lizards creep, and nightbirds sing;
  The snail is dancing in his shell.        200
The yellow floods are still and quiet;
  The sky is blue like trembling glass;
Beasts, birds and toads and insects riot
  Beneath the stars in jungle grass.
After the battle night alone;        205
  Moon-mist, ghostly poison-flowers;
Trumpeting of beasts that moan
  Through creeping crawling crimson hours.
A shaky moon rocks in the night,
  A grumbling sea, far palms, the crash        210
Of monkeys chattering as they fight;
  Gray serpents going like a flash;
Slow turtles, swifter bats on wing;
  Worms creeping back, and spiders, flies;
Lizards with poisonous following,        215
  And fanged things in their paradise.
Slimy silken bellies squirming,
  Offal-scented beasts of prey;
Hungry, lethal toads and reptiles
  Who move by night and hide by day:        220
Tearing flesh of birds that nest,
  Rending bones that drip with blood.
So the jackals strike and quest
  In the world’s jungle brotherhood.
But must these creepers in their turn        225
  Be conquered in the coming light,
As new hope rises on the world
  And the old lions go with the night?
Yet who can tell what signs of death
  Await the nations one by one?        230
Ah, what will happen in earth’s dark night
  Before the rising of the sun?

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