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The poem A Tiger in the Zoo written by Leslie Norris is about a tiger that has been caged in a zoo. The poet describes how it spends its time in the zoo and what it would have been doing if it were free and in the forest.
The poem has been divided into five stanzas having four lines each. We will discuss all the stanzas line by line and also discuss difficult words.
The poet says that he i.e. the tiger stalks quietly (moves) in his quiet rage (anger) in his vivid (bright colored) stripes (yellow in color) the few steps of his cage on pads of velvet (i.e. its feet).
The first stanza gives an insight to the condition of the tiger. First, it walks quietly but in rage because it is encaged and helpless. The cage is quite small and thus it can walk just a few steps.
Note that the poet has also described the vivid appearance of the tiger. It has bright coloured strips on its body and its feet (pads of velvet) are like fabric.
In the second stanza, the poet explains how it would have been if it were free. According to the poet, he i.e. the tiger should be lurking (hiding) in shadow (of trees or stones). It would have been sliding (moving quietly) through long grass near the water hole (a small stream) where plump (fat) deer pass i.e. often visit to quench their thirst.
So, the poet imagines the tiger in a forest. According to him, if it were free, it would have been roaming here and there in order to catch its prey. It would have gone near the water bodies where deer often visit.
Next the poet says that if the tiger were free, it would have been snarling (making fierce sounds) around houses which are located at the jungle’s edge i.e. near the forest. It would have been baring (showing) its white fangs (sharp teeth) and its claws and thus terrorising the village.
In this stanza, the poet comes back to the real condition of the tiger. According to him, he is locked in a concrete (hard) cell (prison). All his strength is behind the bars (i.e. useless for him).
It has nothing to do. So it just stalks i.e. walks the length of its cage (i.e. roam around its cage) and also ignores the visitors who have come to see it. This stanza describes the helplessness of the tiger. It has strength as well as courage but now that it is in the cage, all his powers are of no use.
In the final stanza, the poet says that, in the cage, the tiger hears the last voice at the night of the patrolling cars (i.e. the cars which roam around the zoo for checking) and stares at the brilliant stars (twinkling stars) with his brilliant eyes (brilliant here means fierce and shining eyes of the tiger).