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Near one corner of the British Museum’s

Great Court – the largest, roofed, public square

in Europe – the Lion reclines on a plinth.

It was stolen, a couple of years

after the Crimean War, from a ruined

tomb in Turkey. Its limestone body

had once been adorned with marble, its empty

eye sockets with glass to glint in sunlight

and glow in moonlight. Whether because

its pockmarked flanks seem sad or its eyeless face

appears benign visitors are keen to pose

for photos with the beast as backdrop.


I sit and watch. Three Buddhist monks, holding

their museum bags, snap each other.

Meanwhile, running deftly through the visitors,

my granddaughter returns delighted

from the many spoils of Ancient Egypt.


As natural light morphs into electric

the youngest monk comes back to take a selfie.

He turns and twists to angle his iPhone –

and immortalise the great blind head that now

looks both wise and simple.






© Copyright David Selzer
4 Responses
  • John Huddart
    June 28, 2019

    A fine irony at the close! And that they were Buddhists too! You couldn’t pay for such coincidence.

  • Keith Johnson
    June 28, 2019

    … ‘On the Matter of the Stone Lion’ by Zen Master Roshi John Daido Loori [Koans of the Way of Reality, Case 103]

    The Prologue
    Confined in a cage, up against a wall, pressed against barriers—if you linger in thought, holding back your potential, you will remain mired in fear and frozen in inaction. If, on the other hand, you advance fearlessly and without hesitation, you manifest your power as a competent adept of the Way. Passing through entanglements and barriers without hindrance, the time and season of great peace is attained. How do you advance fearlessly and without hesitation? Listen to the following.

    Main Case
    The Zen National Teacher and Emperor Su-tsung arrived at the front gate of the imperial palace. The National Teacher pointed to a stone lion and said, “Your majesty, this lion is so very rare, can you give me a single turning phrase about it?” The Emperor said, “I cannot give a phrase; please, will the Master give one?” The National Teacher replied, “Oh, this is the mountain monk’s fault.” Later Chen-ying of Ta-yuan asked the National Teacher, “Did the Emperor understand?” The National Teacher said, “Let’s put aside whether he understood; how do you understand it?”

    Each crisis, an opportunity,
    Yet if you fail to act, you miss it by a thousand miles.
    The cave of the Blue Dragon is ominous.
    Only the fearless dare to enter.
    It is here that the forest of patterns is clearly revealed,
    The myriad forms evident.
    It is here that the one bright pearl is hidden. …’

  • Mary Clark
    July 11, 2019

    The New York Public Library has two lions, one on either side of the main steps. They always gave me pause (ha ha), and I’d look at them as if they might come to life as I walked up. I wondered what the meaning could be. Now I think these stone lions and the ones in your poem and the comment signify quiet strength and the power of protection rather than aggressiveness or the might of emperors. So, damaged or restored they attract our attention, whether we are monks or peasants or poets.

  • Mary Clark
    July 11, 2019

    This is a link to the NYPL’s page with a photo of one of the lions:

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