Friday, July 29, 2016

Leconte de Lisle: "The Jaguar's Dream"

Here's one of those poems that grabbed me, and I had to keep coming back to read it.

The Jaguar's Dream

Lianas in bright bloom hang from mahogany shade,
Motionless where the air is languorous
And buzzing with summer flies.  Brushing the moss,
They curl into cradles clutched by the emerald quetzal, swayed
Wildly by monkeys, spun with the yellow spider's silver floss.
Here the bull-killer, slayer of stallions, tired,
Moves among dead tree-stumps moist and soft as sponge,
Implicit violence in his measured tread.
Pelt shimmering with each muscle's plunge,
While from his bay-wide muzzle, drooping with thirst,
A clipped, harsh, rattled breathing shocks
Huge lizards from their sun-trance to a burst
Of chrome-green sparkling over shadowed rocks;
And there where the dark wood blots the sun,
He sprawls across a lichened stone,
Licks satin paws to a lustrous sheen,
Flutters the sleep-heavy lids of gold eyes down
And, as the ghost of his waking force
Twitches his tail and ripples along each side,
He dreams that by some orchard's water course
He leaps and digs his dripping  claws
Into a bellowing bull's flesh-swollen hide.

Charles-Marie Rene' Lecontede Lisle  (1818-1894)
from World Poetry:  An Anthology of Verse
from Antiquity to Our Time  
trans. James Lasdon

I don't know what this poem means or if it is symbolic or metaphorical or allegorical.  It's inner, hidden, deeper meaning escapes me.  It must be the imagery here that attracts meA picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, but I doubt if a thousand pictures could accomplish, for me anyway, what these few words some how manage to do.



  1. The beauty and beast combine with peace and impending death in disturbing ways. I feel as though I need mosquito repellant, rifle, and a reliable native guide; otherwise, I too risk being disturbed by death.

    1. haha; rt, you're a riot! that's funny! i have to go into the other room now to get my elephant gun and native guide... before i read this poem again. actually, i was thinking while reading that it sounded a lot like marly youmans' poetry, with the florid description and flashing references...

    2. R.T.,

      Interesting dichotomy--I never saw that. In this case, would the beast also belong on the beauty side?

      The images are clear and palpable.

    3. Mudpuddle,

      I feel that I enter into the poem, rather than remain on the outside, looking in, when I read it.

    4. fred: what's your favorite line?

    5. Mudpuddle,

      "Implicit violence in his measured tread."

      I love watching cats move, even the smallest house cat. I'd be reading and look up and see my cat come across the carpet, jump up on my lap, and settle down for a nap. She didn't walk or trot; she stalked across the carpet. And she didn't come across the open carpet; she would stalk or prowl along the wall, duck under a small end table, and then jump up.

      I have often thought that Snoopy, the dog in the Peanuts cartoon, was more cat than dog, for the cats I have seen and adopted did far more role-playing than other people's dogs, or so it seemed to me. Dogs live in our world, but cats spend much of their time somewhere else.

  2. Mudpuddle,

    What's your favorite line?

    1. the poem as a whole is remarkable, but "motionless where the air is languorous" appeals quite a bit... reminds me of occasions when i've been hiking in the mountains and halted for a bit: of a sudden the air seems laden, something there i can't quite sense; as if the world had something to say and couldn't quite get it out; almost like time stops, or was never there in the first place... hard to describe, but an unusual experience; a jaguar appearing in that instant would not be a large surprise...

    2. Mudpuddle,

      I know what you mean, but I experience that more in a forest than in the mountains.

  3. Fred, the dichotomy reminds me of William Blake's views (i.e., the marriage of heaven and hell; the lamb and the tiger; songs of innocence and songs of experience); the unanswered question in "The Tyger" still concerns me. Perhaps the jaguar shares something with Blake's feline.

    1. R.T.,

      Interesting comparison. It hadn't occurred to me, but there is that dichotomy there--sleeping peacefully, perhaps purring, as it dreams of killing the bull.

      And, to me, the surroundings do suggest a certain Garden.

  4. Sometimes it is more then enough to enjoy the beauty of the words in a poem without figuring out things like metaphors or symbolism. This verse does indeed paint a wonderful picture.

    1. Brian (et al), in the world of semiotics, are things are symbols. In Plato, all "reality" is imitation. So, don't we need to see beyond surfaces and shadows in all things, especially if all we experience is representation rather than presentation. Forgive my babbling. I'm in that kind of mood this afternoon. Plato has invaded my brain!

    2. Brian Joseph,

      Good point. If it's a wonderful picture, then the symbolism is an added benefit, but it's the overall impression that really is important.

      And it was exactly that which caused me to return to the poem.