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The poem Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers was written by Adrienne Rich who is one of the significant figures of feminist movement during the 20th century. As the title suggests, the poem is about an old married lady (who is trapped in a male-dominating marriage) and her art which helps her to escape from her unhappy marriage.
The poem has been divided into three stanzas having four lines each. In the first stanza, the poet explains the nature of tigers i.e. bold, fearless and free. In the second stanza, the poet explains the nature of the artist i.e. Aunt Jennifer who is totally opposite of her art i.e. trapped, frightened and pain-bearing. The last stanza, compares the life of the artist i.e. Aunt Jennifer and that of her art.
The poet concludes that though Aunt Jennifer has suffered throughout her life because of her failed marriage and will suffer in her afterlife as well, her art will remain fearless, proud and everlasting.
When we read this poem again and again, we find that the poet is indirectly referring to the power of art. For the poet, women can escape from their unhappy life by using their capabilities. Unlike humans, art has no boundaries or limitations. So, basically, the poet is trying to encourage women to raise voice against their slavery by expressing themselves in art.
Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen, Bright topaz denizens of a world of green. They do not fear the men beneath the tree; They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
According to the poet, Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen. The word prance means to leap forward. Screen refers to the canvas on which Aunt Jennifer is craving the tigers. The very first line gives impression of the art of Aunt Jennifer i.e. it is free, bold and hopeful.
They are bright and vibrant like topaz (a yellow coloured precious stone). In other words, the yellow skin of those tigers is bright and appealing. They seem to be the denizens (inhabitants) of a green world. Green world is symbolic. It either means forest or hope or a utopian place which does not exist on earth.
In the third line, the poet says that those tigers (carved by Aunt Jennifer) do not fear the men beneath the tree. Men probably refer to hunters and tree refers to the forest (which exists in the world). This symbol (men under tree) gives the impression of humans dominating the nature. However, here the situation in different. The tigers do not fear those hunters at all.
The tigers pace (move) in sleek (elegant) and chivalric way. The word chivalric was used for knights in old times. However, here the poet personifies the tigers. According to her, these tigers are fearless, they do not fear humans and move ahead in chivalric way.
In this stanza, the poet describes the art i.e. tigers and their characteristics put by the artist i.e. Aunt Jennifer.
Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool Find even the ivory needle hard to pull. The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.
In this stanza, the poet talks about the artist i.e. Aunt Jennifer and her condition which is on contrary to that of her tigers. According to the poet, Aunt Jennifer’s finger flutters through her wool (which she uses for craving the tigers). The word ‘flutter; is used for birds which means flapping the wings quickly. Here, it refers to the inability of Aunt Jennifer to use her fingers.
It is difficult and hard for her to pull the ivory needle. It looks like she is facing problems while carving the tigers. There are probably two reasons for that. Either her husband does not allow her to do that or she has become weak to psychological problems (of her failed marriage).
The next two lines are very important as they depict the reality. According to the poet, the massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band sits heavily upon the hand of Aunt Jennifer. A band is not that heavy. So, the poet is referring to something psychological.
The poet uses “Uncle’s wedding band” which means he is dominating the life of Aunt Jennifer. In addition, as the band is heavy, it means she is bearing the weight of her filed marriage which she cannot escape. This depicts the reality of woman’s condition during 20th century. A woman had to bear the problems of marriage because she had nowhere to go. The poet throws light on this aspect of society.
Aunt Jennifer finds difficult to carve the tigers due to the fear of her husband and the psychological problems. Yet, she manages to carve it.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by. The tigers in the panel that she made Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
According to the poet, when Aunt will die, her terrified hands will still have the ring of marriage on them. So, though she will die, the ordeals i.e. bad experiences (of her marriage) which mastered her (i.e. dominated her life) will remain with her. However, her art i.e. the tigers in the panel (canvas) will keep moving with high spirits, proudly and fearlessly.
In other words, though she will die, her tiger will remain alive, fearless, proud and bold (unlike her). This line gives the powerful message i.e. art has no boundaries, no obstacles. A woman can feel liberated only with her art.