The Use of Animal Imagery in Ted Hughes’ poem The Jaguar

In a literary work the term ‘imagery’ mainly refers to simile, metaphor, descriptive words etc that evoke the mental pictures, before our minds eyes. It is the picture made out of words and appeals to the senses of taste, smell, hearing and touch, and to internal feelings as well as the sense of sight. The imagery is achieved in any literary work through a collection of images.

The Jaguar, composed by the zoo laureate Ted Hughes, is a poem on the background of a zoo and the poem is well-know for the imagery that the poet uses to portray the condition of the encaged animals and birds and the blind energy embodied in a jaguar, the jungle king. The poem opens with the description of the apes. Line –I depicts them in a spiritless condition, who are engaged in ‘yawning’ and, adoring’ their fleas. By using such words as ‘yawn’ and ‘ adore’ the poet creates two powerful images which suggest that the apes have nothing urgent to do, and so feel sleepy. They also, instead of being annoyed, seem to enjoy the presence of fleas on their bodies while basking in the warmth of the sun. In the next cage the parrots are shrieking as if they were on fire and strutting like harlots attracting the onlookers for a throw of nuts. So the expressions, on fine, and stoat imply two vivid images, the parrots are suffering from untold suffering in their chained life and they make sensual gestures like the street girls to attract the passers by. And the first stanza ends with the description of tiger and lion which have become fatigued and indolent, having been deprived of their natural habitat. They are idly having a sun bath.

In stanza II we have the picturesque description of the boa-constrictor, so coiled and motionless as if it were doing so for ages and turned into a living Fossil. And the next three lines-

“Cage after cage seems empty, or
Stinks of sleepers from the breathing straw,
If might be painted on a nursery wall”.

It suggests the condition of the other animals. Actually the cages are not empty; they only seem to be so as there is no spontaneity among the encaged animals.

And now in the stanza III the poet introduces us with a cage in front of which the crowd ‘ stands’ and, stares and gets hypnotized at the spectacle of a jaguar. Unlike other animals, the jaguar is restless and a mobile machinery of destructive energy. Through the prison darkness his eyes meet those of the viewers and they are locked in a Fierce-fuse’ that can explode any moment Boredom is unknown to him. He spins from the bass to the cage, the cage then seems too small to contain him. He cannot be contained in any cage. No prison can same such ferocious energy or restrict the jaguar’s inborn spirit of independence. And the poet ends his description with the following two striking lines.

The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel.
Over the cage floor the horizons come.

The zoo is made a world where the jaguar is let loose to reign as the supreme power. The world lies under his feet and the horizon meets the cage bass, thus declaring the boundless power of the jaguar. The poet with the help of such vivid expressions as the drills of his eyes, fierce-fuse, cell wilderness of freedom etc successfully depicts the characteristics of the jaguar, the symbol of energy.