The Sultan’s Aging Son Recalls the Hippo Hunt

“The Hippopotamus Hunt” by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1615-1616

“The sultan sent three sons…” His voice is frail;
the boys lean in. “On horseback, battle bound,
we marched with two barbarians to the sound
of barking curs at our feet and a distant wail
of hippo. Coming close, we saw her flail
a crocodile about. We circled ’round
them in the bog on sinking hooves. As a hound
sunk teeth into flesh, we readied to impale
the beast. In a swirl of fangs, of flashing jaws
and daggers, even the horses reared and bit
her hide, then heaved and fell to the croc to lie
in mud.” He leans, refills his raki, draws
a breath. “And which brave fighting man, so fit,
came bleeding home, half broken…? Only I.”

previously published in The Edge City Review


Casey Robb is a former physical therapist and a retired civil engineer from Texas living in Northern California near her two adopted daughters. Her poetry has won numerous awards, including two trophies from state-wide conventions. Publication credits include Ekphrasis, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, The Classical Outlook, The Edge City Review, and The Comstock Review.

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8 Responses

  1. Paul A. Freeman

    What a fine and unique sonnet, Casey. If anything, in the Rubens painting the hippo appears too small. They are huge and fearful and can bite a man in half. But then Rubens had probably never seen one.

    You poem is what I like to call a stanza-turner, galloping along and taking the reader breathlessly from line to line until the final reveal.

    Great stuff.

    • Casey Robb

      Thank you, Paul, for your kind words.

      I used to attend a poetry critique group where we’d bring in ekphrastic poems written to art. The art world is so vast, we never ran out of subjects. Plus, we learned about art, some famous, some not.

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    An interesting subject well described in morbid detail. I learned that Rubens painted more than half naked people. Like Paul, I thought the tale flowed with excellent rhyme and rhythm.

    • Casey Robb

      Thank you for your nice comments, Roy. My art education is limited so I’ll have to explore more Rubens paintings, including the “half naked” pieces. 😉

  3. Jeremiah Johnson

    What a great theme – the hunt! Makes me think of the Jabberwocky, of Beren and Thingol’s wolf hunt, of Beowulf and Wiglaf’s battle with the dragon – and of the lone knight that returns to tell the tale! I love how much can be related within the neatly-ordered honeycomb of a good sonnet! This is a joy to read.

    • Casey Robb

      Thank you for your kindness, Jeremiah. I like your phrase “the neatly-ordered honeycomb of a good sonnet.” Order is a pleasure, especially when infused with drama and surprise. Thanks also for the references — more to explore!

  4. Shawn

    I loved the poem, especially the descriptions of the animals. As a retired Art Teacher I would have loved to present this poem along with the painting to my art students. You are a woman of many talents and always interesting.

    • Casey Robb

      Thank you, Shawn, for your kind words. There was so much to write about in Rubens’ dramatic scene. My limited art appreciation has expanded with my ekphrastic poetry. Kudos to you for passing your love of art to your students!


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