‘The Glove and the Lions‘ by Leigh Hunt is a four stanza poem first published in The New Monthly Magazine, in London, England, in May of 1836. The poem follows a simply structured rhyme scheme of, aabbccdd, throughout each stanza. This gives the piece a sing-song-like melody and keeps the intense climax of the poem from changing the overall tone.
The speaker’s voice is lighthearted and good-natured throughout. There is no real spite on the side of the king, nor any constructed malice on the side of the lady he loves. The poet is seeking to tell a story of how love and one’s need for attention and validation, can shape one’s actions and stretch them beyond that which might seem appropriate.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the event that the royal court, the king included, are attending. It is a fight between two lions and all are there to see it play out. The king himself, Francis, is a fan of this particular “sport,” but his attention is split. He is amazed by the brutality of the fight and the fact that he is able to observe it from safety. On the other hand, he is distracted by the beauty of one for whom he “sighs.” She is the lover of another lord.
The lady herself is distracted by the valor of the king and decided to set a task for her lover. She drops her glove into the lion pit in the hopes that he will jump in and retrieve it for her. He does just this but is not pleased with her actions. He throws her glove in her face and leaves the arena. He does not believe that any true lover would set “such a task.”
Analysis of The Glove and the Lions
King Francis was a hearty king, and loved a royal sport,
And one day as his lions fought, sat looking on the court;
The nobles filled the benches, and the ladies in their pride,
And ‘mongst them sat the Count de Lorge, with one for whom he sighed:
And truly ’twas a gallant thing to see that crowning show,
Valour and love, and a king above, and the royal beasts below.
‘The Glove and the Lions‘ begins with the speaker describing a king, Francis, and the courtesans that surround him. The reader enters the poem into a setting which is normal for the times, but outlandish seeming to a modern audience. One is immediately informed that the king is not a bad man, he is “hearty,” and seemingly good-natured.
On this particular occasion, he is with the “royal… court” watching one of his favorite sporting activities, lion fighting. He is surrounded by aristocrats, lords, and “ladies in their pride.” Everyone is attending this event and is at their best. There is one couple among them that draws the special attention of the king. The Count de Lorge, and his “love.” She is the one for “whom [the king] sighed.” Francis is infatuated with the wife, or lover, of a noble in his court.
Taking a brief step back from the love story that is central to the plot of this short narrative, the speaker describes how the fight is progressing. He states that it is a “gallant thing” to see the “crowning show.” It is quite the royal event, something the common people would never have been able to see. The whole stadium like arrangement is filled with “Valour and love,” and topped off by the king, who is looking down on the “royal beasts,” below him. The “beasts” to which the speaker refers can reference both the lions and the nobles who must fight amongst themselves for the king’s favour.
Ramped and roared the lions, with horrid laughing jaws;
They bit, they glared, gave blows like beams, a wind went with their paws;
With wallowing might and stifled roar they rolled on one another;
Till all the pit with sand and mane was in a thunderous smother;
The bloody foam above the bars came whisking through the air;
Said Francis then, “Faith, gentlemen, we’re better here than there.”
The second stanza of ‘The Glove and the Lions‘ describes the atmosphere of the flight itself. The lions are quite vicious and “roared…with horrid laughing jaws.” They begin to fight and tear into one another. Their “blows” are strong like “beams” and the wind seems to move alongside their paws. They are rolling around on the floor and causing a serious commotion. From where the king is sitting he is impressed by the sublimeness of this moment. He is completely out of harm’s way but is able to experience the “bloody foam” that comes “whisking through the air.”
In a distant and haughty way, he amusingly states that he, and those around him, are better off “here than there” in the pit with the lions.
De Lorge’s love o’erheard the King, a beauteous lively dame
With smiling lips and sharp bright eyes, which always seemed the same;
She thought, the Count my lover is brave as brave can be;
He surely would do wondrous things to show his love of me;
King, ladies, lovers, all look on; the occasion is divine;
I’ll drop my glove, to prove his love; great glory will be mine.
One can assume, as is often the case, that the nobles chuckled at the king’s comment. One of these nobles, the lover of De Lorge, was especially entertained by the king’s whit. She turns and looks at him and smiles with her “beauteous…lips and sharp bright eyes.”
She sees the king, and is perhaps struck by his grandeur and strength. She suddenly feels as if she must test her own lover, De Lorge, to see if he too is as brave as the king seems to be. She wants to be proven right that he is “brave as brave can be” and that he would “do wondrous things to show his love.”
She comes to the conclusion that she will drop her glove into the pit with the lions in the hope that De Lorge will jump in and retrieve it for her.
She dropped her glove, to prove his love, then looked at him and smiled;
He bowed, and in a moment leaped among the lions wild:
The leap was quick, return was quick, he has regained his place,
Then threw the glove, but not with love, right in the lady’s face.
“By God!” said Francis, “rightly done!” and he rose from where he sat:
“No love,” quoth he, “but vanity, sets love a task like that.”
De Lorge does as she intended. He smiles at her, bows, and the leaps “among the lions wild.” He moves so quickly that they are unable to touch him. He is back, regaining “his place” as her lover before anyone has the time to react.
So far things have gone to plan, but De Lorge was not amused by this gesture. He does not express his love at this moment. Instead, he throws the glove at her face and states that he is “rightly done” with her. He rises once more and leaves the arena.
De Lorge seems to be the only one in this scenario that has a healthy outlook on what a relationship should be. He understands that she did not really make this gesture in the hopes of having his love for her validated, but instead as a way of getting attention and indulging her “vanity.” He states the same, and strides away from the king and nobles. He does not believe that “love” would “set…as task like that.”