Here Ted Hughes takes the reader to visit a zoo where animals seem to have resigned themselves to their caged safety each adopting their own preferred type of behaviour in order to cope with the sedentary limitations of their existence.The irony of this poem is that the jaguar refuses to accept the limitations of his caged freedom.
The parrots shriek as if they were on fire, or strut Like cheap tarts to attract the stroller with the nut.
Fatigued with indolence, tiger and lion Lie still as the sun. Cage after cage seems empty, or Stinks of sleepers from the breathing straw. But who runs like the rest past these arrives At a cage where the crowd stands, stares, mesmerized, As a child at a dream, at a jaguar hurrying enraged Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes On a short fierce fuse.
Like a messiah figure, he seems visionary and spontaneous. Mentally he is elsewhere, outside, roaming his natural habitat, moving powerfully and with deadly intent The poem celebrates this separation, this defiance through a language that conveys his imaginative agility, even when faced by the all too real boundaries of his cage.
This is one of my favorite poems by Hughes as it captures the unbowed grandeur of the jaguar, giving representation to his courage and creative imagination as he refuses to be cowed by man’s attempts to domesticate his wild nature.
The heavy irony of the first stanza’s last line, underlines the tiredness of having nothing to do.
Once energetic and bold wild creatures have now become reduced ‘unnatural’ replicas/ mere ciphers of their original states.
This stanza reveals the extreme power(and pathos) of an animal who refuses to be degraded into a dull spectacle.
Here we meet the jaguar who is ‘enraged’ by his situation and who stares out of his confinement with ‘drills’ for ‘eyes’.
Boredom dominates the lives of the animals described in the opening stanza.
Even the normally irritating fleas have become a matter of affectionate interest to the apes as their lives are so dull, that even fleas seem deserving of tenderness.