A Tiger in the Zoo

A Tiger in the Zoo

by Leslie Norris

A Tiger in the Zoo Summary

In Short

  • We see a tiger in the zoo with its long stripes and soft paws. He is angry and moves slowly in his cage.
  • The poet then imagines the tiger’s real life in jungle. He depicts how the tiger would hide himself behind grass and hunt the deer who come to drink water.
  • The tiger would sometimes roar near the houses frightening people.
  • Despite his strength, the tiger is now confined in a cage where he walks in limited space.
  • At night the tiger stares at the stars probably thinking of the free life he once enjoyed.

A Tiger in the Zoo Explanation

Stanza 1

He stalks in his vivid stripes
The few steps of his cage,
On pads of velvet quiet,
In his quiet rage.

The poem starts with a beautiful description of a tiger. He has black stripes on his yellow body. The tiger is walking in his cage. He can take only a few steps because the cage is small. It is not easy to move in it freely.

His paws are soft like velvet. When he walks, no sound is produced because of this. The tiger is full of anger but it is suppressed because he is helpless here. Through this stanza the poet presents the agony and helplessness of a tiger who is caged in a zoo.

Stanza 2

He should be lurking in shadow,
Sliding through long grass
Near the water hole
Where plump deer pass.

The poet talks about the other side of a tiger when he is free in the jungle. In the dark forest the tiger should be lying in the shadow of a tree or hiding behind long grasses near the water bodies so that he can see other animals coming for drinking water there. There the tiger would have pounced upon the fat deer and eat it as his meal. The poet imagines the ideal life of a tiger in a forest, its natural habitat.

Stanza 3

He should be snarling around houses
At the jungle’s edge,
Baring his white fangs, his claws,
Terrorising the village!

In the third stanza, the poet imagines another situation for the tiger. He would sometimes be roaring near the houses at the outskirts of the village. He would also be showing his white teeth and sharp claws to scare the villagers. Thus, the tiger would become a cause of terror for the villagers. It is not that the tiger enjoys scaring the people, but these are his natural behaviour.

Stanza 4

But he’s locked in a concrete cell,
His strength behind bars,
Stalking the length of his cage,
Ignoring visitors.

In this stanza, the poet comes back to reality. We see the tiger locked in the cell of a zoo like a prisoner in the jail. The cell is made up of sturdy materials. The tiger is unable to come out due to these bars.

He has all strength and power but he is unable to show it because he is confined. The tiger moves slowly in the limited space of the cage. He pays no attention to the people who come to see him there in the zoo because he is sad in his present state.

Stanza 5

He hears the last voice at night,
The patrolling cars,
And stares with his brilliant eyes
At the brilliant stars.

The poet here shows the tiger’s restlessness in the zoo. He can’t sleep well in the zoo as he would have slept in the forest. He hears the sounds of the patrolling cars in the night. The patrolling cars come to see if all the animals are safe in their cages. The tiger is awake till the last sound of the cars.

The tiger keeps staring at the stars with his bright eyes. He longs to return to the jungle. He gets lost in the thoughts and wonders why he has been imprisoned.

Through this poem “A Tiger in the Zoo” the poet raises a very common issue of animal confinement in the zoo. He sympathizes with the tiger and shows the cruelty of man towards other animals.

A Tiger in the Zoo – Critical Commentary

George Leslie Norris was a Welsh poet and short story writer. He belongs to post-war period. This poem was written in 1938 when he was 17 years old.

The poem “A Tiger in the Zoo” consists of five stanzas of four lines each. In each stanza, the second and fourth lines rhyme together, making the rhyme scheme ABCB. There is no specific metre used in the poem.

The poem is rich in its use of poetic devices. The poet uses personification to put human qualities on the tiger. We find an oxymoron (placing of contradictory words side by side) in “quiet rage”. There is an alliteration (repetition of consonant sound in the beginning of nearby words) in “where plump deer pass”.

The poet employs a metaphor when he compares the tiger’s paws to velvet (“On pads of velvet quiet”). We find an onomatopoeia in the tiger’s “snarling”. And imagery is used in phrases like “lurking in shadow”, “plump deer” and “sliding through long grass”. The image of the angry but helpless tiger in his cage reminds us of the caged bird in Maya Angelou’s poem.

The poet’s message is that the wild animals should be living in their natural habitat. We keep them in the zoo for our own amusement but never think about how they feel. In the zoo, they have no freedom. They become angry, frustrated and helpless.

Men derive pleasure by keeping them in the confined cage. But the wild animals feel sad. Their souls are suffering behind the bars. They lose their real spirit. The poet highlights the contrast between captivity and freedom.

We don’t like captivity. So why should the animals be treated differently? After all, they are also living beings. Moreover, the nature is beautiful in its own state. Why should we humans be spoiling it? These are the questions the poet wants to ask through this simple yet powerful poem.

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