‘Lion Heart’ by Amanda Chong is an eight stanza poem that is divided into sections of six, three, and two lines. The majority of the poem, the first five stanzas, are made up of sestets, or sets of six lines. The following two sections contain three lines or tercets, and the final is a two-line couplet.
While one is reading this piece, it is important to keep from envisioning the subject of the poem as one type of creature, or human being. It should be seen as a simple entity or representation of strength. This main character represents more than one single animal or person could. It is meant to signify progress, strength, and adaptability.
The poet decided to craft her main character in this way to allow a reader to envision them in any way imaginable. The descriptions are quite detailed in places but also encourage imaginative additions. There is one feature that Chong most certainly wanted a reader to account for, bravery.
‘Lion Heart’ is an extended metaphor for the progress of Singapore, the poet’s home country, and its increasing courage.
You can read the full poem here.
The poem beings with the speaker stating that an undefined entity is rising up out of the ocean and setting foot on the shore. This person, who represents Singapore, quickly gains a foothold. It is able to make prosperous the land and gather to it many different kinds of people.
The poem concludes with the speaker stating that it is important for the country to be strong, but it must also not lose track of its history and story-rich past.
Analysis of Lion Heart
You came out of the sea,
skin dappled scales of sunlight;
Water whipped the first breath of your lungs,
Your lips’ bud teased by morning mists.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker dramatically introduces the main character. The poem is written in, and told from, a second-person perspective. Meaning that “you” is the primary pronoun in use.
This “you” to whom the speaker directs her words emerges into the poem as if rising from the depths of the sea. This person, being, or entity is being born, or reborn, onto the Earth. Their past life was one only experienced in the oceans, a fact expanded on by the description of the skin being “dappled scales of sunlight” and the being’s hands as holding “waves of fish.” The fact that the fish are clasped in the person’s hands, and they are rising so ominously and powerfully from the oceans, suggests that this creature is deeply driven. They are coming into the world with a specific purpose in mind.
The creature has come, “Riding” the “crests [of] waves,” and “washed up” onto the shore. As soon as this being arrives their “gills snapped shut.” They are no longer of the sea and have no use for this feature.
As the stanza progresses the scene only increases its resemblance to a birth. The breath is whipped into this creature’s body and its lips feel the “morning mists.” The whole world is going to be new to this being.
While the text is quite engaging on its own terms, it is important to keep in mind that the poet intends this piece to be a description of the evolution of Singapore and the country’s place in the world. The development of this undefined entity mirrors that of Singapore, the creature’s strength is the country’s strength.
You conquered the shore, its ivory coast.
heralding the coming of a prince.
In the second stanza of this piece, the speaker’ describes the creature’s progression on earth. Before too long, it has “conquered the shore,” as well as the “ivory coast.” There seems to be no force on land that can stop the progression of the being, (aka Singapore and its people).
The following lines refer to the creature’s inherent attraction to its home, the water. Its traditional way of being is calling to it, represented in the rocking of the legs “with the memory of water.”
The being has not fully settled into its new role, it still feels the pull of a wilder world.
In the jungle, amid rasping branches,
trees loosened their shadows to shroud you.
You settled back on fluent haunches;
The squall of a beast. your roar, your call.
The poem continues on with the creature jumping to another spot on land. It can now be found “amid rasping branches” before the “prince.” This prince, while undefined, is clearly someone of importance. He is looking upon the newly born creature and sees its “golden sheen” and the eyes which flicker with an “emerald blaze.” These are elements that a prince of any kind would envy.
This small amount of civility is soon replaced with the creature’s inner wildness showing itself. It settles “back on fluent haunches,” an action that happens often, and lets out a “roar.” This noise is an identifiable part of the creature’s being, it is its own “call.”
In crackling boats, seeds arrived, wind-blown,
and embraced the land that embraced them.
At the approximate halfway point of this piece the subject, “you,” of this piece is making inroads to creating a sustainable civilization. This being is able to gather “crackling boats,” and call for “seeds” to arrive.” They come, and the being, still being referred to as “you,” makes them appear in “your hand.” From there this person, who is becoming more human, folds the seeds into the ground, or “loam,” and watches as they grow and “spawn shade.”
Theses seeds represent all the different types of people who live in Singapore and how the country has planted them, appreciated them, and embraced them as they embraced a new land.
Centuries, by the sea’s pulmonary,
a vein throbbing humming bumboats –
as they heave themselves higher
above the mirrored surface.
In this section, a long period of time has been and still is, passing. So long, it is like “Centuries.” The main character, “you,” is standing by the seashore watching as the “trees” that were planted in the fourth stanza grow into the size of skyscrapers with their “ankles” in the water of the ocean.
These trees are another symbol for the country which was mainly powered by the ocean-related industry and grew until it was one of the most prosperous in Asia. Once more, the speaker shows that Singapore is gaining in diversity and prosperity.
Remember your self: your raw lion heart,
through ribbed vaults of buildings.
In the first of three conceding stanzas, the speaker is asking that “you,” meaning the original country, before it grew strong, remember how it used to be. It must remember its “raw lion heart” before it was supplemented by prosperity.
The stories of the past are one important part of this. Each “beat” of the metaphorical person’s heart is ruled by a story. Singapore is powered by the ocean just as much as it is by its people’s histories.
Remember your keris, iron lightning
double-edged, curved to a point-
The speaker asks that one “Remember” the “keris,” a type of ceremonial dagger, and how it “rippe[d] through” the waves. The traditions of Singapore provided the implement that leads to its advancement. The speaker spends the next lines on the description of the “keris,” She makes sure that it is shown in all its glory.
flung high and caught unsheathed, scattering
five stars in the red tapestry of your sky.
In the final two lines, or concluding couplet, the speaker resolves her description and requests of Singapore by stating that “she,” a reference to both the country and the “keris,” or sword, is “unsheathed.” It is no longer hiding from its potential or discussing its beauty. It has arisen from the ocean to become part of the world.
In the last line, the sword is said to “scatter / five stars in the red tapestry of your sky.” This is a very clear reference to the five stars on the flag of Singapore and how they are metaphorical spreading out into more lands, fields of production, ways of living and means of survival.