The Nemean Lion or the First Labor of Heracles

The lion of Nemea roamed the plain.
By it how many were devoured and slain?
It fed on men and beasts, and like a king,
When it wished it did on its lessers spring.
The man who, in the field, was caught unawares,
Was slain as surely as foxes caught in snares;
It pounced upon them and tore from their bones
Their flesh: first they howled, then gave sickly moans;
The thirsty ground drank up the blood that poured
From their wounds. The lion triumphant roared.
In agony did men and women weep,
When they beheld their kinfolk slain like sheep;
And so, with great desire they sorely sought
A hero, by whom the beast could be caught,
And not only caught, but wholly destroyed,
That quiet peace again might be enjoyed:
But until Heracles, none could do the deed;
Thus, from the lion Nemea wasn’t freed.
But, Eurystheus sent Heracles to slay
The lion, for his first labour to pay
For the crime that he in madness had committed;
Only by labours could he be acquitted.
And Heracles went out to seek his prey;
He found it, and he shot it where it lay;
The arrow from his bow could not pierce its hide,
By its golden fur ‘twas lightly pushed aside.
He waited then and watched it from afar,
Seeking a better chance with the beast to spar;
At last, the lion to its den returned:
The entrance to its cave, Heracles discerned.
The mount on which it sat, he circled first,
Careful, lest the lion, sensing him should burst
From out the cave, and seize him unaware:
He treaded lightly, and took the utmost care.
Another entrance to the den he found;
A giant boulder he pushed along the ground;
With this he covered the mouth of the cave,
Then went to make the den the lion’s grave.
The second entrance led him to his foe,
Into the lair he crept, cautiously and slow;
The beast was fast asleep, it did not sense
Heracles’ approach. The hero in suspense
Approached within a span, and raised his arm;
He made not a sound, he gave no alarm;
He raised his club, and with one brutal blow,
He battered the brains of the beast below:
The lion – dazed – could not tear Heracles,
Who in his godlike arms the beast did seize.
He strained: the labour took all of his might,
But he embraced the deed, for he loved a fight.
Though suffering o’ershadowed all his life,
He never shrank in fear from pain or strife.
The beast, it strained to break free from his grip,
And sought by heaving to make the hero trip:
But Heracles held fast his roaring prey;
By suffocation he took its life away.
When finally, the beast slumped down in death,
Then Heracles at last could catch his breath;
And then, as proof to all of what he smote,
He took the lion’s skin to be his coat.
When Eurystheus saw what he had done,
He quaked with fear and was almost undone.
That the labour was fulfilled, he agreed,
Then sent Heracles on his way with speed;
And after this, Eurystheus had made
A jar of bronze, which in the earth was laid:
From that day forth, when Heracles would come,
To command the labour, he’d send other some,
While he himself would hide, in abject fear,
And to Heracles wouldn’t dare come near.

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