Sunt Leones. Stevie Smith

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“Sunt Leones”

This poem shows some of the most representative stylistic features that characterise Stevie Smith’s poetry. Economy of expression and verbal eclecticism are two of the most remarkable aspects of her poetry, but maybe the originality of Smith’s work lies especially in the way she combines her poetic comic voice with the seriousness of the subjects dealt with. “Sunt Leones” clearly exemplifies these features. The poem is a kind of theological speculation developed in a predominantly comic tone. Stevie Smith was a declared religious skeptic who (in her own words) was “always in danger of falling into belief” (NAEL, 8th edition, vol.2, 2006: 2373). She, then, felt somewhat attracted to religious themes, and in “Sunt Leones”, she deploys an ingenious reflection about the role the lions that devoured the Christians at the Roman Coliseum could have played in the consolidation of Christianity. The importance given to the fact is clearly expressed in the final couplet, in which the word “Lionhood” (with initial capital “L”) particularly strikes our attention. Therefore, on the one hand, we have a serious subject matter in both religious and metaphysical terms, since the poem deals not only with Christianity but also with death itself. On the other hand, the seriousness of the theme contrasts with its verbal and formal expression. As regards the metre, the poem does not have a regular pattern: the length of the lines varies from seven up to sixteen syllables, and the rhythm is also variable. However, except in the lines 5-7, the poem follows an almost regular pattern of rhyme. It has two different effects: in some cases, there appears a rhyming iambic pentametre couplet, which is a classic literary pattern (for instance, in lines 15-16); in some other cases, the rhyming lines seems more like a nursery rhyme. It is that combination of classical and popular forms which strikes the reader. At the same time, the extensive use of enjambment provides the...
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