Tiger in the Menagerie – Emma Jones
Emma Jones is a young Australian poet. Born to a British mother and an Australian father, she was educated in Sydney. Her first volume of poetry had the distinction of being published by Faber. After getting a degree in English, Emma Jones moved to the University of Cambridge, where she received a Ph.D.
This is a poem that has diverse interpretations. The menagerie could be a conventional one where animals are kept in captivity for show. Or the word menagerie could stand for the forest where large numbers of animals live. What strikes the reader in this poem is the robust metaphors and imagery in the lines,
the bars were the lashes of the stripes
the stripes were the lashes of the bars
Here the bars of the cage and the stripes of the tiger seem to merge. The tiger may have escaped from its cage and entered the menagerie where the other animals are kept. Did the tiger eat all the other animals? That is a possibility as the words “when the sun rose they’d gone” would indicate the same. The tiger seems to instill fear among the birds in the aviary which fly up to be out of its reach.
No can be sure of how or when but the tiger had got into the menagerie. It was almost like a painting of the tiger moved inside in a flash. The bars of the cage and the stripes on the tiger were subjected to each other for so long that they seemed to have merged at night. When the morning sun rose, “they” had disappeared. Only the orange blazing eye of the tiger remained. When the tiger got into the menagerie, the animals would have cried out “tiger” if they had the power of speech. The birds in the aviary would have barricaded themselves inside if that had been possible. But as it is they flew up to be out of the tiger’s reach.
When the tiger got into the menagerie, no one was sure how it had happened. It was too sudden, there was a flash of blue and it had happened. The bars of the cage and the stripes of the tiger seem to be in conflict. But at night they seem to merge and the tiger comes out. The tiger stalks the animals in the menagerie. They barely had time to call out “tiger”. The birds in the aviary try to escape from the tiger by flying to the top.
The poem has striking imagery. Some of them are : Too flash, too blue; the bars were the lashes of the stripes/the stripes were the lashes of the bars, one clear orange eye, Its heart began to beat in rows of rising birds. The language used in this poem is pretty ordinary.
The overall impression is one of controlled aggression of the tiger. Through several images, the poet hints at violence.