Middle of Nowhere Productions

Middle of Nowhere Productions

The Jaguar (Ted Hughes) Notes.

Ted Hughes

The Jaguar

Suggestions for a commentary.


Scene set in a zoo, with a strong opposition between the Jaguar and the other animals. Starts from clinical observation of captive animal behaviour to end up in a suggested, Baudelaire-like comparison between the jaguar and the poet.

Yet, minimal presence of the poet (unlike in L’albatros): “who”, and 3rd person.

Falls into three parts clearly indicated by form:

Two major parts signalled by rupture in stanza enjambments and “But”. No period between stanzas 1 and 2 (part one) and no period either between stanzas 3 and 5 (part two). Yet, rupture in rhyme pattern (from ABBA in stanzas 1,2,3 and 4) to ABAB in stanza 5 suggests stanza 5 is part 3.

Analysis will show that form is coherent with contents.

Part One.

Descriptions of various animals of the zoo.

Deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

(Lust Luxuria Chastity Castitas Gluttony Gula Temperance Temperantia Greed Avaritia Charity Caritas Sloth Acedia Diligence Industria Wrath Ira Patience Patientia Envy Invidia Kindness Humanitas Pride Superbia Humility Humilitas)

Lexical fields of immobility and laziness, or vanity (apes and parrots)

Suggests animals are representative of men, in a deprecatory way:

Apes: Laziness and the worshipping of idols (fleas)

Parrots: Lust and venality, idle talk.

Lion and tiger: usurpation of status, illusion of power.

Boa constrictor: Petrifaction, “mortal coil” reduced to fossil, snake-symbolism disconnected.

Collection of vices (“stinks”) and sins + uselessness, suggested by the adjective “empty”.

Concluded on an image of conformity: nursery-wall painting (Walt Disney?)

Part Two.

Break with “But”

Presence of something that could be the writing instance: “who”, opposed to “the rest”.

Drastic change of rhythm with the appearance of the jaguar: shift from slow, developed segments to quick, halting rhythm. Hectic pattern of one-syllable words, sustained by alliterations (eye/satisfied/blind/fire, bang/blood/brain, fierce/fuse) and the adjective “short”. Breathless five-verse-long sentence (9->13)

Lexical fields founded on violence.

Shift from sunshine to darkness, lexical field of imprisonment (prison/bars/cage/cell). Yet paradoxical light present: “blind in fire”, “fierce fuse”.

Impression of energy, desperate energy, urgency, absolute necessity, compulsion.

Part Three.

Key given by the word “visionary” and the polysemy of “cell”. The visionary is that who sees without seeing, the cell is the den of the monk, of the poet, also Prospero’s dwelling in The Tempest. The cell is also the minimal part of the organism, of the body, compared by Plato to a prison (soma/sema). Also cell as a light-sensitive device.

The jaguar is then the poet, different from “the rest”.

New shift in the rhythm pattern, also drastic. Turns to slow, regular, alliteration in “l” on verse 19. Reinforced by the shift in rhyme pattern: ABAB suggests regularity, military-like, right-left, right-left. Sustains the actual vision, that of a jaguar actually making the world revolve under “the long thrust of his heel”, like a circus jaguar standing on a big ball..

Rhythm (as a poetic value) symbolised by “stride”, and reinforced by the non-conformist plural of “wildernesses”, enhancing “freedom” as the opposite of the numerous occurrences of prison terms. Other strange plural on “horizons”. Paradoxically sustains the unicity of the poet (monakos/cell). The jaguar, like the poet, creates visions and rhythm, and, like the poet, his “stride” is compulsive and ceaseless.


Perfection in the adequation of form and contents. Reminds of Baudelaire’s Albatros, and more of Rilke’s Panther, but in a much more allusive and optimistic way. Remarkable use of clinical observation of jaguar-in-zoo behaviour to be turned into a remarkable vision. Remarkable choice of the eponymic animal, also a polysemic animal (jaguar, leopard, panther, ounce, cougar), and it is a spotted animal, some kind of a Cain.

Almost quantic vision: a single jaguar can make the world go round (polysemy of “cell”, a cell is a world in itself). Can also be black.

Remarkable absence/presence of the poet, quasi-oxymoronic: the poet is absent, but he is always present. The poet is “who” in the poem, and who is “who”? The poet is invisible, but he makes the world go round.

Self-referential value also. The poet is absent, but if that is not pure unadulterated poetry, with a subtle interplay of lexical fields, figures of speech, meaningful variations of rhythm, twisted symbols and universal visions, then what is poetry?


Rainer Maria Rilke

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Charles Baudelaire


Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Qui suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers.

A peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d'eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
L'un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L'autre mime, en boitant, l'infirme qui volait!

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher.

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