Tiger in the Menagerie


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Emma Jones

Sreekumar K                                                                                                                   Facilitator, L’ecole Chempaka International, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

Tiger in the Menagerie by Emma Jones is more like a collage of images than a poem. It catches in very few words the ferocious nature of a Tiger enclosed in a small and oppressive place. There is also a fine play of words as the poet uses one part of speech for another deliberately to create a great impact on the reader. The end result is that the poem can be read several times and each time our mind responds differently to the poem.

The poem is also an example of how real poetry will defy any kind of rephrasing or translation. It is generally said that poetry is what is lost in translation. It can be said about simplification or explanation. Poetry works on the limitations of language. It goes beyond the limitation and any attempt to bring it back to the confines of language is bound to fail.

Literature is, in general understood by most people as allegorical in nature. Those who are not well trained in literature will always try to figure out what each line and phrase is ‘trying to tell’ them. This leads to lot of far fetching. Since we don’t do this for an abstract painting, breaking it down to the colours or lines, we should not do this to poetry either breaking it down to its fine elements. Like an impressionist painting this poem gets written on our mind and each time in a different way.

However, a close look at the structure, content and style might help the ordinary reader. First of all the poem has an interesting structure. On the page the lines look like those on the flanks of a tiger. Two three-line stanzas in the beginning, middle and end and two two-line stanzas in between them, together, give us the image of something seen through the bars of cage. The lines resemble the stripes on the tiger too.

On the content side, the basic elements in the nature and appearance of the animal are brought to the front. The poet plays with time and space to effect a certain universality to her theme. The narrative strain has an obscure beginning.

No one could say how the tiger got into the menagerie.

But what was encased and shown around was not as real as a tiger. It was like the painting of a tiger, not comprehensive or complete but only what was needed by the painter or the artist was there. It was too brilliant to look like a dirty predator.

too much like the painting of a tiger.

But at night the captured and the capturer were one and the same. At an unguarded moment, the alertness drops off and so does the distinction. That which is caught and that which caught it became one and the same.

when it was time for those eyes to rock shut

That which inhibited or prevented the tiger’s movements merged itself into the tiger giving it total freedom.

the bars were the lashes of the stripes
the stripes were the lashes of the bars

Aggression, unashamed of itself, with no eyes whatsoever to see itself, walked the world especially the Indian subcontinent.

and they walked together in their dreams so long
through the long colonnade
that shed its fretwork to the Indian main

But when the sun rose, all was made bare and the great tiger had become nothing but an image in someone’s eye or mind. An eye seeking the tiger saw it wherever it looked.

that when the sun rose they’d gone and the tiger was
one clear orange eye that walked into the menagerie.

But eventually at some point in history the tiger lose its ‘tigerness’ and it was not something worth looking at, let alone looking up to.

No one could say how the tiger got out in the menagerie.
It was too bright, too bare.

Even the menagerie wanted to ‘cry tiger’ just to scare people since there was no tiger there at all.

If the menagerie could, it would say ‘tiger’.

But the cautious but weak birds were careful. They would have locked the door of the menagerie and let the tiger spend its life as a ‘exhibition item’.

If the aviary could, it would lock its door.

They fluttered their wings and warned one another whenever the tiger came inside.

Its heart began to beat in rows of rising birds
when the tiger came inside to wait.

Thus a very simple imagist poem uses its own obscurity to lend itself to political readings against imperialism. History is written by the victors and so the tiger was held high above the birds and the menagerie above the aviary. But as light was shed on them, and as the darkness of ignorance came to an end all idols were found to have feet of clay.

However, it is not necessary to analyze the poem for its political connotations to appreciate its beauty. The poem lends itself to several readings right from a focus on animals to the light shed on human nature. The best way to understand the poem is to avoid tearing it to pieces but going for a holistic appreciation like going back to a painting over and over.






One thought on “Tiger in the Menagerie

  1. Tiger In The Menagerie by Emma Jones .analyzed by Shanika Paul 2016(Lecturer in Literature) Sri Lanka

    The poem is implied to suggest either the admiration of the striped world represented here by the tiger and its magnificent predatory biology “too much like the painting of a tiger.”(a simile is used here) Or the ferociousness that preys over its victim ,or the theme of the survival of the fittest.

    The poem commences with the line ”No one could say how the tiger got into the menagerie.
    It was too flash, too blue” , The actions or movement of the tiger is hyperbole here in the words ”too flash ,Too blue” it also reflects on the vibrant character of the tiger
    In the next stanza Emma Jones speaks of the bars that stands between the tiger and its prey .This also might symbolize the obstacles faced b the subject in achieving its goal.
    “At night the bars of the cage and the stripes of the tiger looked into each other so long ”the stripes and bars are personified and are presented as if though companions keeping each other company they grow accustomed to each other,
    A sort of illusion is next adopted as the poet states that the tigers eyes” those eyes to rock shut..” either referring to the tiger sleeping or having an illusion of the attack on the animals in the menagerie in his imagination, The next two lines creates “and the bars were the lashes of the stripes the stripes were the lashes of the bars’ The bars and lashes merge together with no separation of entity but as one giving the tiger one clear vision and a clear approach to its target as they walk together “… in their dreams so long through the long colonnade “ the word drems used here may suggest the fact that it is all happening in the mind or dreams,intensions of the tiger
    The attack takes place so fast that n one could explain what realy happened in the dark howls of night except when the morning dawned “when the sun rose they’d gone and the tiger was
    one clear orange eye” the eye of the tiger and the sun are metephoricaly compared here as well .
    The repetition of the word ”too” in the next line is again used to emphasize on the depth of the action of the tiger in this case “It was too bright, too bare” since it was the bright morning and also the menagerie was now empty In the last lines Jones personifies the menagerie ,and aviary as if though holding it a witness to the crime
    Copy rights : Teacher Shanika Paul
    U/graduate BA English(OUSL),ADIE(UK),ACIE(OUSL),DIP;AMI/PSY(CAMBRIDGE)Trained Teacher(IMSD)

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