Tuesday Poem: The Bereavement of the Lion-Keeper

for Sheraq Omar

Who stayed, long after his pay stopped,
in the zoo with no visitors,
just keepers and captives, moth-eaten,
growing old together.

Who begged for meat in the market-place
as times grew hungrier,
and cut it up small to feed him,
since his teeth were gone.

Who could stroke his head, who knew
how it felt to plunge fingers
into rough glowing fur, who has heard
the deepest purr in the world.

Who curled close to him, wrapped in his warmth,
his pungent scent, as the bombs fell,
who has seen him asleep so often,
but never like this.

Who knew that elderly lions
were not immortal, that it was bound
to happen, that he died peacefully,
in the course of nature,

but who knows no way to let go
of love, to walk out of sunlight,
to be an old man in a city
without a lion.

Sheenagh Pugh
The Movement of Bodies (Seren, 2005)

12 Replies to “Tuesday Poem: The Bereavement of the Lion-Keeper”

  1. As I write this, I have in my mind both the lovely poem you’ve posted and the quote on your blog about the ‘dark feathered heart’ and think that the heart of the old man would be moth-eaten and furry…. Thank you Joanna, The Bereavement of the Lion Keeper moves me very much. Welcome to Tuesday Poem.

    1. For me, it’s the balance between pathos and dry-eyed pity.
      I think I may have to use my Tuesday Poem slot to showcase my favourite UK poets – give me a great excuse to get back in touch with them. (Or to bug them for the first time … my net spreads wider and wider …)

  2. Jo,

    Thanks for sharing this poem–I found it as moving reading it this week as I did when you first encouraged me to read Sheenagh Pugh’s “The Movement of Bodies”. Amazing poetry; wonderful poet.

  3. I had this poem in an exam once where we had to write a page about how it made us feel. I told them I could identify with it because of my sick cat.

    My cat had a heart attack this morning and right now… I feel like an old man in a city without a lion…

    Thank you for posting this:)

  4. This poem makes me cry every time I read it. I teach it to my secondary school students now to encourage empathy with all living things.

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