‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris talks about a tiger kept in a zoo. The cage of the zoo not only keeps a check on its movement but also makes its spirit dim. It makes the poet sad to think about how the soul of the wilderness is suffering behind the bars. Men keep the wild creatures encaged for amusement but never thought about how they felt. Through this poem, Norris depicts how a tiger feels inside the little space of its chamber. Moreover, the use of imagery and figurative language makes the idea of the poet more compelling to the readers.
‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris presents an image of a tiger stalking inside a cage in the zoo. Habitually, it’s not comfortable in such an enveloped environment. It should be wandering in the wild, hunting on deers, drinking from a water hole, and snarling around the fringes of the forest. But, the cage has made him disabled. It somehow thrives to sustain its spirit and struggles to keep it alive. Here, the tiger can only hear the sound of the patrolling cars that pass by. Moreover, the brilliant radiance of the stars makes it think about its present captive state.
You can read the full poem here.
‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris consists of five stanzas each having four lines in it. In each stanza, only the second and fourth lines rhyme together. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCB and it goes on like this. As an example, “cage” rhymes with “rage” in the first stanza. The metrical composition of the poem is unconventional. There isn’t any specific metrical scheme in the poem. The poet mostly uses the iambic meter and the anapestic meter in the poem. However, the poet also uses spondee in the poem. As an example, “quiet rage” is a spondee.
‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris begins with a synecdoche. By using “vivid stripes” the poet refers to the body of the tiger. The poet uses personification for investing the tiger with the qualities of humans. There is a metaphor in “velvet quiet”. Here, the poet compares the pads of the tiger to velvet. Moreover, in “quiet rage” there is a personal metaphor and oxymoron as well. Apart from that, in the second stanza, the poet uses alliteration in the last line. Thereafter, in the third stanza, the poet uses asyndeton. The “concrete cell” in the following stanza contains consonance. In the last stanza, uses a metaphor of “voice” for the sound made by the patrolling cars. The repetition of “brilliant” in the last two lines is meant for emphasizing the similarity between the stars and the eyes of the tiger.
‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris presents several themes such as freedom vs captivity, tamed vs wild, wilderness, and natural beauty. The most important theme of the poem is freedom vs captivity. In this poem, Norris describes how the tiger longs for its freedom. It somehow wants to break its imposed captivity to become the same wild spirit again. Thereafter, the poet talks about how men try to tame the wild. It not only destroys the beauty of the wild but it also tries to kill one’s basic instincts. Moreover, the description of the tiger and its movement in the forest depict the nature of wilderness.
The poet also speaks on the theme of natural beauty in this poem. The tiger is a part of nature that stands for the beauty of nature as a whole. It represents the wild side of nature still it has its beauty. The poet compares the luster of the tiger’s eyes to that of the stars.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
He stalks in his vivid stripes
In his quiet rage.
‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris describes a tiger captivated in the cage of a zoo. It has vivid stripes on its body just like others of its kind. It can only stalk a few steps inside the small cage. Its padded feet reduce the sound while it moves. Moreover, the poet says his rage is quietened in captivity. The cage makes the wild instincts of the tiger mute.
He should be lurking in shadow,
Where plump deer pass.
The second stanza of ‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris speaks on what is suitable for the tiger. At this time, it should be in the forest lurking in shadow and sliding through grass. It should be near the water hole where the plump deer pass. Whatsoever, through this section, the poet presents the imagery of the wild. It also depicts the tiger’s instincts.
He should be snarling around houses
Terrorising the village!
‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris goes on to describe its wild behavior in this section. According to the poet, the tiger should be snarling around houses at the jungle’s edge. Moreover, the poet uses terrifying imagery in this section. The “white fangs” and “claws” of the tiger are symbols of power and dominance. It also symbolically represents fierceness and cruelty. These features make the caged tiger a real tiger of the wild. But, it is unable to act in such a way that once might have terrorized a village or human habitation.
But he’s locked in a concrete cell,
In the fourth stanza of ‘A Tiger in the Zoo’, the poet says men kept the tiger behind the bars of concrete. Here, the “bar” is a metaphor for captivity. The cage has even locked its strength. That’s why it stalks the length of his cage with utter anguish and frustration and ignored those for whose entertainment it was now in such a pathetic condition.
He hears the last voice at night,
At the brilliant stars.
The last stanza of ‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris highlights the agony of captivity. Once the sounds of the forest made it feel safe and kept its spirit alive. But, now, it hears the sound of the patrolling cars. It stares at the brilliant stars with its glowing eyes and tries to find solace. The stars remind the tiger of its present situation. The stars shine in the open and free sky. But, its star-like brilliant eyes see them from behind the bars. It makes the poet feel sad about its pain.
‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris was written in 1938 when the poet was 17 years old. From age 12, Norris wanted to be a poet and listened to the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins. Whatsoever, through this poem, he presents the attitude of men towards animals. Men drive pleasure from captivating wild animals behind bars. It, not only pains those animals but the poet’s heart also pains for their sufferings. Moreover, through this poem, he advocates for the freedom of zoo-animals.
Like ‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ by Leslie Norris, the following poems also talk about tigers and other animals kept in captivity.
- The Tyger by William Blake – Here, William Blake, one of the best British poets, presents the awe-inspiring features of the tiger. It’s one of the best William Blake poems.
- The Tiger in the Menagerie by Emma Jones – Also similarly describes a tiger in captivity.
- The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves by Gwendolyn Brooks – It’s about a tiger who seeks to break the mold.
- In Praise of Creation by Elizabeth Jennings – Praises the beauty of nature and her creatures.
- Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich – In this one of the best Adrienne Rich poems, there is a metaphorical reference to the tigers.