Friday, 2 December 2016

Essay 7: Lion Heart

This essay discusses the structure of the poem 'Lion Heart' by Amanda Chong. I particularly like this poem due to the fact that the author was merely 16 years old when she wrote it, and yet, the profoundness of her words is far beyond her years. 

Lion Heart by Amanda Chong, is a fairly patriotic poem, where Chong conveys pride in her country, through delving into its historical past and exploring its origins. The key metaphor employed here is of Singapore’s national icon - the Merlion, a mythical beast characterised by its strength and might. The poem is divided in a manner where each stanza serves to delineate the transition of the Merlion moving from from ocean to land, consequently presenting a chronological order of Singapore’s journey towards development. Hence, structure plays a key role in making this poem effective.

The first stanza describes the Merlion coming “out of the sea, skin dappled in scales of sunlight”. Scales refer to the fact that this creature belonged to the water, indicating how Singapore too, emerged from the ocean, the ocean that was its “pulmonary”, and was an immensely significant player for its growth. The alliteration amplifies the magnificence of this creature, creating a vivid image of light shining off the Merlion, almost as though it is a jewel that has been unearthed. Chong also employs hyperbole to reveal the might of the Merlion, with “waves of fish in its fists”. The employment of alliteration furthers this image of might. The “first breath of your” lungs signifies the beginning for Singapore, for this was when the country was born. It is an analogy that compares the birth of Singapore to a baby taking its first breath when it is born.

The second and third stanzas further highlight the strength of the Merlion, by virtue of which Chong describes the immense potential in Singapore, as recognised by the British when they first arrived at the island. The power of the Merlion is highlighted by the fact that it “conquered the shore”. These lines are emblematic of the spirit of Singaporeans, who are capable of overcoming challenges. Chong presents an ethnic image to accentuate the royalty of the Merlion, whose “heart thumped - an animal skin drum, heralding the coming of a prince”. The onomatopoeia (“thumped”) appeals to one’s auditory senses, enabling us to visualise the deep sound of the drum that resonated throughout the island, much like the country of Singapore preparing to send powerful waves across the globe once it begins to grow.  The magnificence of the beast typifies the spirit of courage and bravery, and the power and wealth of Singapore, thus instilling a sense of pride in Chong’s Singaporean readers. This regal image is developed further along the poem through phrases such as “emerald blaze” and “golden sheen”, exemplifying the now unearthed treasure Singapore came to be. Chong also emphasises upon the Merlion’s “oceanic origins”, reminding us yet again, of the ocean which was the most powerful tool in shaping Singapore’s successful economy.

Furthermore, in the third stanza, the Chong communicates the strength of the country, which is now a major player in the world economy, by presenting an authoritative image of the Merlion. Even the “rasping branches” of the jungle, “loosened their shadows” to welcome this prince. This was reciprocated by the “squall of a beast”, indicating that the Merlion was ready to take control of this new land it had come across. Chong uses the metaphor of the Merlion’s grandiose to indicate how post the discovery of Singapore, one realised its immense capability and capacity for becoming a world leader.

Fourth stanza onwards, Singapore’s rapid growth and development are described in depth. The “crackling boats, seeds arrived”, as the Merlion summoned them and “watched the saplings swaddled in green, as the sunk their roots”. At this stage, Singapore’s foundation is being set. This refers to the arrival of the British as they colonised this land, and took the first steps to develop this country. Soon enough, the “trees rise as skyscrapers”. The country of Singapore is becoming more independent, as its “heaves” itself “higher above the mirrored surface”. This highlights Singapore’s transition. From being largely dependent on the ocean for trade, it is now becoming more independent and is growing beyond the maritime based economy it was. However, despite the reducing importance of the ocean, Chong emphasises upon the fact that one cannot forget Singapore’s origins and disregard the integral role the sea has played in its journey. Thus, the ocean is still present, the skyscraper’s “ankles lost in (its) swilling water”.

The precious material of Singapore’s “ivory coast” has now manifested into a wealthy and highly influential economy. The last lines of this poem stress upon the need to be firmly rooted and aware of the country’s origins, taking pride in all that it has accomplished thus far. The imagery of the “raw lion heart” connote Singapore’s fearlessness and superiority which is reflected “through ribbed vaults of buildings”.  The “keris”, “ripping through tentacles of waves” represents how Singapore has emerged victorious, battling bravely against all odds to become what it is. The last three lines are an eloquent description of Singapore’s flag - “five stars in the red tapestry”, a rich image that elicits a sense of patriotism and pride from all Singaporeans.

Alliteration and imagery remain consistent throughout this poem, providing vivid descriptions that are resplendent with rich colours, thus illuminating the strength of the Merlion and Singapore that has only evolved over the years. The structure also plays a central role in building upon the idea of the ups and downs Singapore faced in its journey to growth. The irregularity in the rhyme scheme and length of stanzas bear resemblance to this message. Also, the stanzas keep becoming thinner, demonstrating the rapidness with which the country grows as time passes. The last three stanzas are much shorter, comprising of two to three lines, representative of the skyscrapers that are symbolic for Singapore’s development.


In this manner, Chong successfully makes use of structure to celebrate Singapore’s past, and rejoice in its accomplishments ever since. The structure is as essential as the literary devices employed in order to make this poem impactful, for it enables Chong to unravel Singapore’s history with a lot more efficacy through the division of stanzas.

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