He stalks in his vivid stripes
The few steps of his cage,
On pads of velvet quiet,
In his quiet rage.
He should be lurking in shadow,
Sliding through long grass
Near the water hole
Where plump deer pass.
He should be snarling around houses
At the jungle’s edge,
Baring his white fangs, his claws,
Terrorising the village!
But he’s locked in a concrete cell,
His strength behind bars,
Stalking the length of his cage,
He hears the last voice at night,
The patrolling cars,
And stares with his brilliant eyes
At the brilliant stars.
The tiger in the zoo walks in the limited space provided to it in the cage. It takes a few steps. There are stripes on its body which are quite prominent. Its paws are soft like velvet. No noise is produced when it walks on its ‘pads of velvet’. The tiger is silent but in anger.
The poet suggests that the cage is not the proper place for the tiger. It is not its natural habitat. Usually, tigers are found sitting under long grass near a stream. As soon as they see their prey like deer coming, they slide silently through the grass and kill them. The poet wants to convey that the tiger should be there in the forest, in its natural habitat.
The poet then gives another suggestion that the tiger should be sitting at the jungle’s edge in close vicinity of a village. He should be terrorising the people passing that way by its sharp teeth, baring its claws and producing low sound of anger.
The poet now shows deep sympathy at the plight (unpleasant situation) of the tiger that is imprisoned in a cell made of concrete. He cannot come out of the cell because strong bars are fixed. Thus the poet says that the tiger’s strength is locked behind the bars. He shows no interest in looking at the visitors. Rather he keeps on stalking (in anger) in the limited space of the cage.
The poet again takes the readers to the cage where the tiger is sitting in the cage and feeling unpleasant and restless. He hears the sound of the patrolling cars of the zoo authorities. He shows no interest in them. He stares at the shining stars with his brilliant eyes. The poet raises a moral issue here. He intends to present a strong case against the cruelty.
This poem contrasts a tiger in the zoo with the tiger in its natural habitat. The poem moves from the zoo to the jungle, and again back to the zoo.
In the zoo, he has no freedom. He is kept in a cemented cell behind the bars. He feels angry, frustrated and helpless. This reminds him of his natural habitat, his hiding and sliding in the long grass near the water hole and pouncing upon the fat deer, the way he terrorised the villagers, displaying his sharp teeth and claws.
At night in the zoo, he hears the sounds of patrolling cars. The tiger in the zoo appears helpless as a mere showpiece and source of entertainment to people. The poet wants to convey that it is cruel to keep wild animals in small enclosures of the zoo, away from their natural habitat. They feel angry, helpless and unhappy in the cage. He pays no attention to the visitors who come to watch him. In the silence of the night, he stares at the brilliant stars with his bright eyes.
Imagery: The phrase ‘lurking in shadow’ creates a word picture of some danger hovering for the animal who has come to drink water. Other such word pictures are “sliding through” and “plump deer”.