Why Nobody Pets the Lion at the Zoo

By John Ciardi 1916–1986 John Ciardi
The morning that the world began
The Lion growled a growl at Man.

And I suspect the Lion might
(If he’d been closer) have tried a bite.

I think that’s as it ought to be
And not as it was taught to me.

I think the Lion has a right
To growl a growl and bite a bite.

And if the Lion bothered Adam,
He should have growled right back at ’im.

The way to treat a Lion right
Is growl for growl and bite for bite.

True, the Lion is better fit
For biting than for being bit.

But if you look him in the eye
You’ll find the Lion’s rather shy.

He really wants someone to pet him.
The trouble is: his teeth won’t let him.

He has a heart of gold beneath
But the Lion just can’t trust his teeth.

John Ciardi, "Why Nobody Pets the Lion in the Zoo" from The Reason for the Pelican (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1959). Used by permission of the Ciardi Family Publishing Trust.

Source: The Reason for the Pelican (Lippincott, 1955)

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Poet John Ciardi 1916–1986

Subjects Relationships, Pets

 John  Ciardi

Biography

To millions of Americans, the late John Ciardi was "Mr. Poet, the one who has written, talked, taught, edited, translated, anthologized, criticized, and propelled poetry into a popular, lively art," according to Peter Comer of the Chicago Tribune. Although recognized primarily as a poet and critic, Ciardi's literary endeavors encompassed a vast range of material. From juvenile nonsense poetry to scholarly verse translations, . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Pets

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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