The Lion’s Bride

The poem explores the two contrasting dimensions of womanhood: the pure and virginal side, but also the untamed and ‘whorish’ side. Harwood presents these as two extremes because there is nothing in between in the lion’s view.

“I loved her softness, her warm human smell,
her dark mane flowing loose”
- Ethereal, stereotypical depiction of womanly beauty
- The personal pronoun “I” is intimate and makes the narrator’s observations of the woman appear disturbing. This is sinister foreshadowing. Readers are immediately alerted to the fact that the narrator is not human because they speak of “human smell” as if it’s a foreign concept, and use the word “mane”.
- The lion likens the woman to an animal, attempting to mould a new identity for her.
- From a feminist viewpoint on marriage and the destruction of self that women experience as a result, the lion’s behaviour echoes the fact that woman were often expected to take their’ husband’s names. This is the destruction of self that Harwood explores.

“Her father, faithful keeper, fed me well”
- Alliteration
- The woman is the keeper’s daughter

“but she came daily with our special bowl
Barefoot into my cage, and set it down:
Our love feast”
- “our” unifies the lion and the keeper’s daughter. The lion invests meaning into the ritual act of sharing a meal with the woman – he (initially) believes in woman’s constancy
- “barefoot into my cage” evokes images of primitive life and being trapped

“...talk of town”
- Cliché
- Alliteration

“brute king and tender woman, soul to soul”
- Juxtaposition between the beastly nature (“brute”) of the lion (“king” of the jungle) and the fragility of the woman (“tender”)
- The lion has an idealised belief that he and the keeper’s daughter are soul mates
- Harwood presents the reader with duality, suggesting a dimension of illusion and false appearances

“Until today:”
- The shortness of this stanza opening, and the colon, indicates a dramatic pause and an abrupt break in the rhythm
- It signifies the beginning of a darker sequence of events (a valid interpretation is that the woman is mauled to death), almost like a warning or a gateway

Illusion and reality meld:
“an icy spectre sheathed in silk”
“I ripped the scented veil”
“Unreal head”
“Painted lips”

Aggressive verbs (such as “minced”, “ripped” and “engorged”) add dramatic tension and quicken the pace of the poem. The scene becomes more immediate and romanticised descriptions of love and adoration cease.

“A ghost has bones, and meat!
Come soon my love, my bride, and share this meal”
- Reminding readers of the lion’s innate predatory nature
- The lion identifies the woman as his “love” and his “bride”, giving her a label and ultimately moulding a new identity for her even in death (whether or not she was killed is still open to interpretation)

Themes

‘The personal is political’
- An idea that stems from feminism
- Women’s personal choices are influenced by political and social factors, as well as systematic oppression
- Related to issues of marriage, abortion, suffrage

Marriage
- Dilemma of love and power. Harwood explores the notion that love empowers a woman, but the poem also suggests that love can be destructive
- Women being ‘eaten alive’ by the monotony of domesticity, the constraints of societal impositions and views about how an archetypal woman should be

Gender roles
- The conflict between matrilineal and patrilineal heritage
- The man’s role is portrayed as violent, devouring and ultimately destructive
- The woman is presented as fragile, even defenceless