The Lion-Lamb of Lviv (a fantasy in verse)

Submitted by Lani Phillips on

Affiliate Professor Gene Lemcio published the following poem six years ago.  Given that Lviv is now a regular news item from a war-torn Ukraine, he wanted to share the poem again.

The city’s pride – of lions
made in any style, size and time
for over seven hundred years
have come to dominate
each thoroughfare and boulevard.
Its shops are filled with mugs and
tourist bric-a-brac emblazoned with
that noble face and form.

The Leontopolis Hotel
had been the site of growing pains:
expansion meant upheaval
for both guests and citizens.
This situation worsened
when the trencher struck
an unforgiving block of stone
that seemed to be an animal (or two?) –
the law demanding that all digging stop
until an archaeologist could estimate
both date and provenance.

The rubble cleared by practised gentle use
of spade and brush, a builder’s crane
conscripted from another pit
began to extricate the marble objects
from their earthen womb
(a double harness, not a noose,
securing trunks and legs).

The weight of unaccustomed, awkward freight
soon took its toll on fraying cable,
squealing winch and grinding rusted gears.
A mist of acrid fumes arose from overheating engine oil,
dispersing randomly throughout the anxious crowd
that hushed as swaying forms –
akin to those condemned to gallows’ fate –
were safely landed on the city square.

A jaded populace should hardly care
about another lion added to the mix.
But this was new:
against the muscled cat there stood
a lamb that seemed at first conjoined.
But this illusion soon gave way
to something more complex and delicate:
his royal diadem held captive
by her crown of thorns.

So much was clear enough.
But did the calloused paw mean to caress?
Or had its claws produced
that ugly gash across the throat?
And were the stare and furrowed brow meant to intimidate;
or did they show concern for what was done?
No matter, since the victim’s eyes
returned the gaze with neither terror nor reproach.

At once the statue gave offence:
a noted critic called the thing ‘grotesque’.
‘What Gorgon could have borne –
and loved – a nightmare brood as this?
One look at her and they were turned to stone
while nursing at the breast!’
A milder academic claimed,
‘No similar design has ever graced
a banner, shield or crest.’

Disgruntled bishops tried to blame
an ancient secret sect of priests
who had allegedly reneged on solemn vows
to church – and state.
‘These renegades had made their mission clear:
defang, de-mane, dethrone
the King of Beasts, the jungle’s lord,
worse still the Tribe of Judah’s messianic sign!
Who would not rather hear the echoes of a manly roar
than suffer bleating, bleeding sounds of sacrifice?

‘What should be done to exile this monstrosity?
Entomb it in a locked museum vault, a dank cathedral crypt
or let an auctioneer promote a piece of kitsch to lowest bid?
No, better still: adorn a shirt, a towel, scarf and mug.’

-Eugene Lemcio, 2016

PLEASE NOTE: The following correspond to historical reality: King Danylo of Halych (thirteenth century) founded Lviv, naming it in honour of his son (‘Lev’s’), whose name is derived from the Ukrainian word for lion, itself stemming from the Greek. The city is indeed saturated with leonine statuary. Although the Leopolis Hotel exists in Old Town, the Leontopolis Hotel does not – its name originating with a royal and religious centre in Hellenistic Egypt. Everything else is a figment of my imagination.


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