“The Jaguar” is about a trip that Hughes made to the zoo. In the poem, he describes the animals in a zoo and their behaviour.
It compares the apes, parrots, tiger, lion and a boa constrictor to the jaguar, which is an animal that lives differently to the others in the way that it views its life. The poem begins by describing the apes ‘yawning’ and ‘adoring their fleas’, and the fact that they are in the sun adds to the sleepy air. I think this line was deliberately chosen to convey the monotonous lull of everyday life in the zoo and set a drowsy mood. The second line has a rather different tone; it tells of the parrots that ‘shriek as if on fire’.
Parrots do shrieks, so this is literal, but it gives a connotation of pain or perhaps boredom. Also, they strut themselves like cheap tarts so that visitors of the zoo will feed them, which indicates that they are losing their dignity to food. Line three speaks of the tiger and lion, which are apparently “fatigued with indolence”. Once again, suggesting the tone of sleepiness and possibly boredom, and the idleness of the animals. The animals are tired, and in the wild they would probably be more likely to be hunting rather than lazing about in the middle of the day. The second stanza repeats again the same monotonous lull of the animals, this time a boa constrictor.
The word “sun” is used again, so the warm, drowsy image returns, so are the animals. The following lines describe the boa-constrictor which has a coil in its tail, which supposedly “is a fossil”. The end of the second line of stanza two is: “cage after cage seems empty” which signifies the monotonous appearance of the cages, which hold very little activity as all the animals in there are barely moving.
Basically, the animals are dull and not a very piquant sight for visitors. The next line uses the alliteration “stinks of sleepers” which doesn’t really means that the sleepers literally stink, just that there is a strong ‘scent’ of sleepiness in the air, as if there is no activity to interest the visitors. Some of the sleeping animals themselves are hidden under straw, so the author uses another metaphor and suggests that the straw is breathing. These animals, which in the wild could be threatening and very dangerous, are not acting on their usual instincts and instead are choosing to lie about in a kind of stupor that makes them appear harmless and approachable and generally unnatural. Hence, describing them harmless enough to be painted on a nursery wall.
The third stanza begins with the following line: “But who runs like the rest past these arrives”. The use of the word ‘but’ is quite effective as it immediately breaks the tone and the reader knows that something different is about to be described. Already it is evident that this animal is living more as it would in it’s natural environment, which is quite refreshing in comparison to the droning lifestyles of the other animals encountered earlier. The cage at which the creature arrives is observed by a crowd,.