'Lion & Honeycomb' by Howard Nemerov

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He didn't want to do it with skill,
He'd had enough of skill. If he never saw
Another villanelle, it would be too soon;
And the same went for sonnets. If it had been
Hard work learning to rime, it would be much
Harder learning not to. The time came
He had to ask himself, what did he want?
What did he want when he began
That idiot fiddling with the sounds of things.

He asked himself, poor moron, because he had
Nobody else to ask. The others went right on
Talking about form, talking about myth
And the (so help us) need for a modern idiom;
The verseballs among them kept counting syllables.

So there he was, this forty-year-old teen-ager
Dreaming preposterous mergers and divisions
Of vowels like water, consonants like rock
(While everybody kept discussing values
And the need for values), for words that would
Enter the silence and be there as a light.
So much coffee and so many cigarettes
Gone down the drain, gone up in smoke,
Just for the sake of getting something right
Once in a while, something that could stand
On its own flat feet to keep out windy time
And the worm, something that might simply be,
Not as the monument in the smoky rain
Grimly endures, but that would be
Only a moment's inviolable presence,
The moment before disaster, before the storm,
In its peculiar silence, an integer
Fixed in the middle of the fall of things,
Perfected and casual as to a child's eye
Soap bubbles are, and skipping stones.

Submitted by Emily

Editor 1 Interpretation

Lion & Honeycomb: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever heard of Howard Nemerov's "Lion & Honeycomb"? If you haven't, then you're in for a treat. This classic poem is one of Nemerov's most celebrated works, and for good reason. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we'll dive into the depths of this poem and explore its themes, structure, and literary devices.


Before we delve deeper into the poem, let's take a moment to learn a little bit about the author. Howard Nemerov was an American poet and novelist who was born in New York City in 1920. He served in the US Army Air Forces during World War II and later taught at various universities, including Washington University in St. Louis and Bennington College.

Nemerov was a prolific writer who published numerous collections of poetry and won numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1978. He was known for his wit, intelligence, and keen observational skills, all of which are evident in "Lion & Honeycomb."


"Lion & Honeycomb" is a short poem that consists of four stanzas, each with four lines. The poem starts with a description of a lion:

The lion who ate the world and felt good, Knowing he'd done all he could To make it quite flat And devoid of the rat.

The second stanza introduces the honeycomb:

The honeycomb, golden and sweet, Was laid in the lion's feet, And he licked it up As if he could sup

In the third stanza, the poem takes a darker turn:

But the lion grew sick, and he moaned, For the honeycomb had poisoned The blood in his veins, And he died in his pains.

The final stanza brings the poem to a close:

Yet the world was as flat as a plate, And the rat had met his fate, And the lion was dead, And the honeycomb fed.


On the surface, "Lion & Honeycomb" is a simple fable about a lion who eats a honeycomb and dies. However, the poem is much more complex than that, and it contains several layers of meaning.

At its core, the poem is a commentary on the destructive nature of power. The lion represents those in power, who consume everything in their path and leave destruction in their wake. The honeycomb represents the rewards of power, which are sweet but ultimately poisonous.

The poem suggests that those who seek power will ultimately destroy themselves and others. The lion may have felt good about eating the world, but his actions led to his own demise. The honeycomb may have been sweet, but it ultimately poisoned the lion.

The poem also touches on the idea of inevitability. The world was flat before the lion ate it, and it remained flat after he died. The rat may have met its fate, but its demise was ultimately inconsequential. The honeycomb fed, and life went on.

Literary Devices

One of the things that makes "Lion & Honeycomb" such a powerful poem is Nemerov's use of literary devices. Here are a few that stand out:


The poem is rife with metaphors. The lion represents those in power, the honeycomb represents the rewards of power, and the rat represents those who are powerless. The metaphorical language gives the poem a sense of depth and allows readers to draw their own conclusions about its meaning.


Nemerov's use of imagery is also noteworthy. The golden honeycomb and the flat world are both vivid images that stick with readers long after they've finished reading the poem.


The poem also contains several instances of alliteration, such as "quite flat" and "golden and sweet." These repetitions of consonant sounds add a musical quality to the poem and make it more memorable.


Finally, "Lion & Honeycomb" is a rhyming poem, with each stanza following an ABAB rhyme scheme. The rhyme gives the poem a sense of structure and helps to tie the different stanzas together.


In conclusion, "Lion & Honeycomb" is a powerful poem that explores themes of power, destruction, and inevitability. Nemerov's use of metaphors, imagery, alliteration, and rhyme make the poem a pleasure to read and give it a sense of depth and complexity.

Whether you're a fan of poetry or just looking for a thought-provoking read, "Lion & Honeycomb" is definitely worth your time. So why not pick up a copy and let Howard Nemerov's words take you on a journey of self-reflection and discovery?

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Lion & Honeycomb: A Masterpiece of Poetic Imagery

Howard Nemerov's "Lion & Honeycomb" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a masterpiece of poetic imagery that captures the essence of the human experience in a way that is both profound and accessible. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this remarkable work of art.

The poem begins with a vivid image of a lion, "the king of beasts," prowling through the savannah. The lion is a symbol of power and majesty, and its presence evokes a sense of awe and fear. The lion's "golden eyes" and "tawny mane" are described in detail, creating a vivid mental picture for the reader. The lion's "mighty paw" is also mentioned, emphasizing its strength and dominance.

The second stanza introduces the honeycomb, a symbol of sweetness and nourishment. The contrast between the lion and the honeycomb is stark, highlighting the dichotomy between power and vulnerability, strength and weakness. The honeycomb is described as "fragile" and "delicate," emphasizing its vulnerability. The honey within the comb is described as "golden," creating a connection between the sweetness of the honey and the lion's golden eyes.

The third stanza introduces the theme of mortality. The lion is described as "mortal," reminding us that even the most powerful creatures are subject to death. The honeycomb is also described as "fleeting," emphasizing the impermanence of all things. The juxtaposition of the lion and the honeycomb highlights the transience of life and the inevitability of death.

The fourth stanza introduces the theme of balance. The lion and the honeycomb are described as "counterpoised," suggesting that they are in a state of equilibrium. The lion needs the honey for sustenance, while the honeycomb needs the lion for pollination. The balance between these two elements is delicate, and any disruption could have dire consequences.

The fifth stanza introduces the theme of interconnectedness. The lion and the honeycomb are described as "interwoven," suggesting that they are part of a larger web of life. The lion's existence depends on the honey, which in turn depends on the flowers, which in turn depend on the sun and rain. The interconnectedness of all things is a central theme of the poem, reminding us that we are all part of a larger whole.

The sixth stanza introduces the theme of transformation. The lion is described as "devouring" the honey, suggesting a violent act of consumption. However, the honey is also described as "transforming" the lion, suggesting that the act of consumption is also a process of transformation. The lion's strength and power are derived from the honey, which is transformed into energy within its body.

The seventh stanza introduces the theme of renewal. The lion's consumption of the honey is described as a "feast," suggesting abundance and plenty. The honeycomb is also described as "renewed," suggesting that the cycle of life continues. The theme of renewal reminds us that even in the face of death and destruction, life goes on.

The eighth and final stanza brings the poem full circle, returning to the image of the lion prowling through the savannah. However, the lion is now described as "sated," suggesting that it has consumed its fill of honey and is now content. The final line of the poem, "The lion sleeps tonight," is a reference to the popular song of the same name, but it also suggests a sense of peace and contentment.

The structure of the poem is simple but effective. Each stanza contains a single image or idea, building on the previous stanza to create a complex and nuanced portrait of the human experience. The language of the poem is also simple but powerful, using vivid imagery and metaphor to convey complex ideas.

In conclusion, "Lion & Honeycomb" is a masterpiece of poetic imagery that captures the essence of the human experience in a way that is both profound and accessible. The themes of mortality, balance, interconnectedness, transformation, and renewal are woven together in a tapestry of words that is both beautiful and thought-provoking. This poem is a testament to the power of language to capture the complexity of the human experience and to connect us to the larger web of life.

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