He stalks in his vivid stripes,
The few steps of his cage,
On pads of velvet quiet,
In his quiet rage.
In this stanza, the poet describes the appearance of the tiger in the zoo and its daily movements. He says that the tiger moves up and down of his cage. The stripes on its body can be distinguished even seen from afar as they are darker in colour than the rest of its coat. The tiger walks quietly without making a sound because of his smooth velvet pads. The tiger is able to walk only a few steps because of the length of its cage. It covers that distance in a few mere steps only. The tiger is full of anger but it is suppressed because he knows that he is helpless here.
Fig: A Tiger in a zoo
He should be lurking in shadow,
Sliding through long grass,
Near the water hole,
Where plump deer pass.
In this stanza, the poet is filled with pity while looking at the imprisoned tiger. The poet imagines another life for the tiger other than the zoo. He says that the poor tiger should have been in his natural habitat that is in the wild forest. He says that under normal conditions, this tiger would have been moving in the darkness, not in the clear daylight. It would have been lying in the shadows of trees or hiding behind long grass so that its prey will not be able to detect its movement. In this way, the tiger would have moved near the water hole where all the animals of the forest come to drink on sunny afternoons. There, near the water hole, he would be waiting for some fat deer to pass that way. Thus, he would be lying there in expectation of a heavy feast.
He should be snarling around houses,
At the jungle’s edge,
Baring his white fangs, his claws,
Terrorizing the village!
In this stanza, the poet says that even though he would prefer the tiger to live in the wild, it is not as if it would lose all touch with human civilization. He imagines what the tiger will do in case he failed to find any prey in his natural habitat. He says that the tiger would be growling at the edge of the jungle near some village. He would be showing his white fangs and claws while moving here and there with the intention of scaring all the inhabitants of that village. He would thus become a cause of terror for the villagers. The poetess here gives a hint that if we destroy the natural habitat of tigers, they will be forced to turn to our towns and villages to find their food.
Fig: A Tiger hugs to man
But he’s locked in a concrete cell,
His strength behind bars,
Stalking the length of his cage,
In this stanza, the poet stops imaging the tiger’s alternate life and returns to its real one. The poet sees the tiger caged in a small concrete cell in the zoo like a prisoner in the jail. In spite of all his strength, it now lies imprisoned behind the bars. The tiger pays no attention to the visitors who come to see him every day at the zoo. Instead of this, the tiger Very slowly and silently moves up and down along the length of the cage without any disturbance in the form of human intervention.
Fig: A Tiger Imprisoned
He hears the last voice at night,
The patrolling cars,
And stares with his brilliant eyes,
At the brilliant stars.
In this stanza, the poet describes the daily routine of the tiger. The tiger does not rest during the day because of the visitors. Even at night, it stays awake till the very last voice of the zookeeper locking up and going home can be heard. After that too, it does not go to sleep. All night, it remains disturbed due to the noise of the patrolling cars. He keeps staring at the brilliant stars with his brilliant eyes. Perhaps he is asking heaven why he has been imprisoned there.