Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers – Summary and Explanation

                                           

               By Adrienne Rich {Adrienne Cecile Rich (/ˈædˌriən/; May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012)}

Adrienne Rich was an American poet, theorist, essayist and lyricist known for her involvement in women’s movement. She wrote against racism and militarism. The theme of ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ is the experience of women in their married life under dominating husbands.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

by Adrienne Rich

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.

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.

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.

Synopsis:-

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers on a screen are her embroidery, representative of her free spirit that she aspires for. She expresses her yearning through her creativity. She creates pictures through her embroidery of the life that she would have liked to live. ‘Bright topaz denizens’ evoke the image of majestic tigers who rule the world of green. These tigers are fearless and fear no men, unlike Aunt Jennifer who is afraid of the oppressor in her life. In contrast to Aunt Jennifer these tigers tread with ‘chivalric certainty’ and possess the confidence and bravery that Aunt Jennifer desires to have.

The second stanza brings out the reality of Aunt Jennifer’s life. She pines for freedom from her burdensome marriage. She finds it difficult to vent out her feelings through her embroidery because of the ‘massive weight’ of Uncle’s wedding band. She is trying to create creatures very different from her own personality and this makes her nervous and her work difficult, even with an ivory needle which is light to handle.

The third stanza is the projection of the future. Even after her death, Aunt Jennifer will not be able to get rid of her marital status. The terror and domination she felt during her married life will continue to remain with her in memories of her. However, the tigers that she had woven will continue to be proud and unafraid living a free life among the greens. It is she who will fade away with time.

Her memories will continue to reflect her subservience to her husband, reminding people of her wishes and how they were crushed in a patriarchal society.

STANZA WISE EXPLANATION

FIRST STANZA
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.

EXPLANATION

The first stanza introduces us to Aunt Jennifer and her passion for embroidery. She is weaving a piece of cloth to be used as a screen. The pattern she weaves depict tigers jumping around in a world of green. They are bright yellow in colour like the topaz stone (metaphor). The dense green jungle is the backdrop of the scene. The tigers, full of the gentlemanly mannerisms, are brave majestic rulers of the forest who are unafraid of men. Here the poet gives a sense of contrast between Aunt Jennifer and her tigers. Unlike the tigers Aunt Jennifer is fearful of the man in her life.

SECOND STANZA
Aunt Jennifer’s fingers 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.

Aunt Jennifer’s fingers tremble with fear as she embroiders the fearless tigers on the cloth. She is weaving something that is absolutely in contrast with her character so she is both excited and afraid. She is afraid that her husband would not approve of her embroidering fearless tigers that are proud of their existence. Her burdensome marriage has worn her out, and she is so tired that she finds it difficult to pull the ivory needle. Her fingers are also weighed down by ‘uncle’s wedding band’. She does not consider the ring as hers even years after her marriage.  Burdened by the obligations of married she is now crushed and worn out.

THIRD STANZA


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.

EXPLANATION

The third stanza is a projection of the future. The poet says that when aunt is dead, her hands which were a part of her terrified existence shall lie by her side. They will also be lying about her existence as a subservient wife as the fingers had created brave tigers in contrast to her real character. The poet here wants to convey that although her husband’s torture had been able to cower her down superficially, but it could not kill her mind which pined for freedom. Unfortunately her ordeal will not end with her death as the burdensome ring will remain on her even after death. However, her desire for freedom will remain alive through her tigers which will continue to prance about on the screen.  

Rhyme scheme: The rhyme scheme used in the poem is – aabb.

Literary Devices in – Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

Anaphora – use of same word in two consecutive lines (they do not … and they pace in…)

Metaphor – Use of topaz to describe the yellow color of tigers (Bright topaz)

Alliteration – ‘f’ sound is repeated in finger fluttering

Synecdoche – terrified hands (part for whole) her hands represents Aunt Jennifer

Pun – i) lie implies that it would be lying by her side; ii) the fingers which made the tigers would give a false impression about her character.

Pun – i) ringed refer to the ringed finger; ii) her entrapment in marriage.

Alliteration – ‘p’ is repeated in prancing proud

Word meanings:


Prance – move with high springy steps.
Topaz – a yellow precious stone.
Denizens –  people or animal that live in a particular place.
Sleek – smooth and glossy.
Chivalric – gallant and courteous, displaying gentlemanly behaviour.

Fluttering –  moving unsteadily.

Ringed – surrounded, wearing a ring
Ordeals – hardships or unpleasant experiences.
Prancing – moving around in energetic manner.

Questions and Answers – Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

Q. What do the ‘terrified hands’ symbolize?

Ans. They symbolize the helplessness of women, caught in overburdening marriages with dominating husbands.

Q. What is the theme of the poem?

Ans. The theme of the poem is the crushed spirits of women in a patriarchal society.  The poem portrays that oppression may dominate over the hands of women but not their minds which yearn for freedom.

Q. What does Aunt Jennifer’s death symbolize?

Ans. Aunt Jennifer’s death symbolizes the never-ending dominance of men in a patriarchal society that subdues a woman’s wishes throughout her life and even continues to do so even after her death. Aunt Jennifer’s hands continue to represent the ordeals she faced in her marriage and her entrapment in it.

Q. How does Aunt Jennifer’s personality contrast with that of the tigers?

Ans. While Aunt Jennifer had a subservient and docile nature due to her over dominating husband, the tigers were fearless and strong. Aunt Jennifer lead a compromised life within the four walls of her home but she yearned to live a life free from fear like the tigers which pranced about proud and unafraid in the world of green.

 Q. How do ‘denizens’ and ‘chivalric’ add to our understanding of the tiger’s attitudes?

Ans. The word ‘denizens’ means that they are proud of their home, they feel safe there and have a feeling of belonging attached to it. They enjoy the kingship in the world of green.
The word ‘chivalric’ shows that they have a majestic, brave and worthy position like knights.

Q. Why are her fingers ‘fluttering through the wool’ in the second stanza?  Why is she finding the needle so hard to pull?

Ans.  Aunt Jennifer is trying to weave tigers which are very different from her own personality. She is trying to express her inner longing to be like that of the tiger, but she is not very confident about it. She feels afraid that her husband might find out about her true nature that is why her fingers are fluttering through the wool.

She is finding it hard to pull the light ivory needle due to the massive weight of her husband’s wedding ring, which is the symbol of her burdened marriage. Her effort to do something that her husband would not approve makes her weak and fearful making her task a laborious one.

Q. What is suggested by the image ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’?

Ans. ‘Massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’ suggests that her marriage has been full of unpleasant experiences which had wearied her out. The wedding band is burdensome on her and sits heavily on her hand as a symbol of the bindings and obligations of her marriage.

Q. Of what or of whom is Aunt Jennifer terrified with in the third stanza?

Ans.  She is terrified of her husband’s wrath and the ordeals of a married life with him. Her dominating husband had made her live a burdensome life full of fear.

Q. What are the ‘ordeals’ Aunt Jennifer is surrounded by, why is it significant that the poet uses the word ‘ringed’? What are the meanings of the word ‘ringed’ in the poem?

A. The ‘ordeals’ were the obligations of marriage, submission to her husband and obeying him. Fearing his wrath and fulfilling his commands.

‘Ringed’ indicates entrapment. As the ring encircles the finger, similarly, her marriage entrapped her in a life she wanted to escape from.

Q. Why do you think Aunt Jennifer created animals that are so different from her own character? What might the poet be suggesting, through this difference?

        I think that Aunt Jennifer’s intense desire for freedom and to live a life without fear, came out through her creativity.

While doing her embroidery Aunt Jennifer spends time with herself. It is at this time that she is able to express her innermost feelings through her creative expression, which in her case is embroidering fearless tigers on her screen.  

Through this difference the poet wants to show that the lady is not what she is. It is her circumstances have made her so, but she still retains a desire to live life with respect and pride.

Interpret the symbols found in Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.

  • ‘denizens of a world of green’ mean, inhabitants of the forest.
  • ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’ means, the burden of marital obligations.
  • ‘Sits heavily upon Aunt’ means, the marriage has laid a lot of stress on her.
  • ‘ringed with ordeals’ means, to get entrapped in hardships and sufferings

Q. Do you sympathize with Aunt Jennifer? What is the attitude of the speaker towards Aunt Jennifer?

Ans. Yes, I sympathize with Aunt Jennifer. The speaker is also sympathetic towards her and abhors dominance of men.

A Thing of Beauty – Question Answers Class 12 English Flamingo

Think it out

Q 1. List the things of beauty mentioned in the poem.

Ans. The things of beauty mentioned in the poem are:

The sun, the moon, old and young trees, daffodils, clear rills, forests, musk roses and the tales of the mighty dead.

Q 2. List the things that cause suffering and pain.

Ans. Some of the things which cause pain and suffering are:

The wrong ways we adopt to succeed, jealousy that arise from our failures, lack of good qualities in men, the gloom and darkness which results from ill-health and sadness.

Q 3. What does the line, “Therefore are we wreathing a flowery band to bind us to earth suggest to you?

Ans: It means that we get attached to the beautiful things around us and weave a pretty band of beautiful memories which binds us to our life; it becomes the reason for us to live.

Q 4. What makes human beings love life in spite of troubles and sufferings?

Ans: The eternal beauty of various things gives us happiness and relaxation. It makes us love life in-spite of life’s troubles and sufferings.

Q 5. Why is ‘grandeur’ associated with the ‘mighty dead’?

Ans: The noble deeds of the brave men who sacrificed their lives are an inspiration for us forever. The beautiful legacy of their bravery is the grandeur which is associated with the mighty dead.

Q 6. Do we experience things of beauty only for short moments or do they make a lasting impression on us?

Ans: According to the poet, a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Even if we see it for a few moments, it has a lasting impression on us and its beautiful memory stays with us forever. It inspires us to live, despite the ruthlessness of life.

Q 7. What image does the poet use to describe the beautiful bounty of the earth?

Ans: The beautiful bounty of the earth is described by ‘endless fountain of immortal drink’. The world of beauty signifies that God bestows us with all his beautiful creations to help us to live our lives despite the sad, gloomy aspects of life.

Other Questions.

Q. What does the poet mean by ‘Its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness;’?

Ans.   The joy that a thing of beauty gives is eternal. Though the beauty of the thing may diminish with time, the joy that it gave will increase as we think about it. It will remain forever in our memories as a constant source of pleasure and happiness.

Q. Explain the meaning of, ‘but will keep a bower quiet for us… breathing.’

Ans.   A bower is a shady part of the garden where one can relax and rest. The poet uses ‘bower’ as a metaphor to say that things of beauty provide us shade in a life that scorches us with disappointment and sadness. The happiness provided by things of beauty provides us with a shade which relaxes us and gives us sound sleep and good health.

Q.  How ‘are we wreathing a flowery band to bind us to the earth’?

Ans.  The poet ‘a flowery band‘as a metaphor to refer to the memories of beautiful things which we gather throughout our lives. These beautiful things help us to weave a deep bond with nature. This flowery band that we weave keeps us attached and connected to the earth. We need these good memories to keep living on in a world full of unhappiness.

Q. ‘Spite of despondence, of inhuman dearth of noble natures,’ What does the poet want to convey through these lines?

Ans. The world is full of unhappiness and disappointments due to the lack of people with good or noble nature.  The jealousy that we feel as a result of our failure; the hopelessness, gloom and despair due to the scarcity of noble souls make our lives miserable. In spite of all the gloom of life; things of beauty lift the darkness and inspire us to keep going.

Q. Why does the poet say that the unhealthy and o’er darkened ways are made for our searching?

Ans. The poet says that our unhealthy life, and the darkness and unhappiness of life are due to the wrong ways we adopt to succeed. The gloom of our lives is made by us for ourselves. Then he goes on to say that things of beauty helps in lifting the pall or darkness and helps us to keep living on.

Q. What is the fountain of immortal drink?

Ans. The never-ending and nectar like joy and pleasure, which the things of beauty give us are metaphorically compared with a fountain. The endless sources of beauty are like the nectar which provides immortality to the Gods.

Q. Who are the mighty dead?

Ans. They are the heroes of legends – the powerful and great men who received laurels for their great actions during their lifetime.

Q. Why have we imagined ‘grandeur of the dooms’ for the ‘mighty dead’?

Ans. We have imagined that they will be richly rewarded on their doomsday as they have served others and brought happiness in other’s lives. They were mighty of their deeds and hence God will reward them well after their death.

Q. How do the tales of heroes affect us?

Ans. The legendary tales of heroes inspire us through their mighty deeds. While their mighty dooms helps us to acknowledge the transience of life. Thus they help us in improving the quality of our lives.

Q. How does beauty help in dispelling gloom?

Ans. Things of beauty makes us feel happy and removes our stress. They create a wreath of beautiful, pleasant memories which helps us in building attachments with the earth despite the unhappiness that surround us due to lack of good qualities in others and in our own selves.

Q. Why does the poet add the stories of the mighty dead to the list of beautiful things?

Ans.  The legends if the heroes who are still praised for their great deeds, inspire us just like the things of beauty. They give us hope and a sense of jubilation and tranquility as the heroes had spent their lives for giving happiness to others. We imagine that they will receive magnificence after their death.

A Birdie Song

Photo by Joyston Judah

Knock, knock, knock on my window pane,
I wondered who could it be.
I opened my eyes to see a bird, from a nearby tree.
She knocked the pane as if to ask,
‘My dear, how do you do?’
She was pretty with a little turf and wings green and blue.
I told her I was fine and, asked how was she;
With rolling eyes and chirping sound,
She told something to me.
I understood that she meant good,
And wished her a happy day.
She flew away with her vibrant wings,
But left me feeling gay.
The little things that come across each moment of our lives,
Are priceless gifts as memories that helps us to thrive.

A  Thing of Beauty -Synopsis and explanation

                                        by   John Keats    

John Keats (1795- 1821) was an English, second generation poet alongside P.B. Shelly and Lord Byron. His lyrical poetry was known for its vivid imagery and sensuous appeal. He died in Rome at a young age of 25 years due to tuberculosis. The romantic poets believed in ‘ a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ and returned to nature for inspiration. ‘A thing of beauty is joy forever’ is the beginning of his poem ‘Endymion: A Poetic Romance’ which is a long poetry of 4000 words. This poem reflects his eternal love for beauty as he says in “Ode on a Grecian Urn’ – ‘ beauty is truth, truth beauty, that’s all yee know on earth and that’s all yee need to know’. Endymion is based on a Greek legend in which Endymion a poet and a shepherd who lived on Mt. Latmos has a vision of Cynthia, the moon goddess. He pursues her in search of beauty which is the perpetual search for mankind.

A THING OF BEAUTYJohn Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Synopsis:

A beautiful thing can cause immense joy in a person’s soul that lasts forever. This pleasure will be there for a lifetime, irrespective of the fact that the beautiful thing passes out of sight with time. This joy never disappears; rather, the effect goes on advancing as the time passes. A beautiful thing has the ability to provide relaxation, peace of mind, good sleep and also has the power to heal. Beauty refreshes ones soul and rejuvenates it. People may be surrounded by negativities: they may be disappointed due to failures, therefore grow jealous of others. They lack in good human qualities and often take up wrong ways to realize their ambitions. But, in spite of all these things which cause suffering, beauty in some form or the other comes to our rescue and helps us in overcoming misery and sadness. These are the reasons we try to be close to nature, as the beauty of nature has a soothing effect upon us.

 We also try to create beautiful memories everyday and cherish them, so that we can continue to live on.  The poet gives a list of beautiful things which are found in nature like the sun, the moon, trees providing shade, daffodils, clear rills and musk rose blooms. He adds another thing to the list of beautiful things. Keats talks about the grandeur which is associated with people whose deeds were heroic. They are dead now, but the actions which they performed in their lifetime have become legends. Their stories inspire people and give meaning to their lives. The poet repeats the idea of permanent impressions left by the things of beauty on people’s minds. He says that beauty gives eternal joy (immortal drink) which continues to encourage and inspire people endlessly (endless fountain). The divine influence showers its grace on people who are living on this earth.  

Explanation of the poem

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

Its loveliness increases, it will never

Pass into nothingness, but will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

The poet says that the joy a beautiful thing gives is everlasting, though the beauty of the thing may diminish. It increases as we talk or think about it and does not go off with passing time. In fact it keeps a soothing shade in our minds which will help us to get peaceful sleep with sweet dreams resulting in good health.

Bower- shaded place

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing

A flowery band to bind us to the earth,

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits.

The poet continues that everyday we make a flowery band of beautiful memories which help us to tie ourselves up with the earth. We try to inspire ourselves through the beauty that exists in nature as we need good memories to keep living on in this earth despite its disappointments and failures. The earth lacks in good qualities and people adopt wrong ways to succeed resulting in unhappiness. This gloom is made by us for ourselves. It is the memories of beauty that help us survive in this gloomy earth by removing the dullness from our spirits.

Such the sun, the moon,

Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon

For simple sheep; and such are daffodils

With the green world they live in; and clear rills

That for themselves a cooling covert make

‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,

Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms;

Here the poet lists a few things of beauty which brings happiness in our lives. The sun, moon, old  and young trees giving shade to sheep, the daffodils amidst greenery and the cooling streams in hot summers, the fragrant musk roses are some of the blessings showered on the inhabitants of the earth.

And such too is the grandeur of the dooms                    

We have imagined for the mighty dead;

All lovely tales that we have heard or read;

An endless fountain of immortal drink,

Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink

The poet adds to the list of blessings the grandeur of the deeds of the mighty people who are now dead. The tales of their grand deeds inspire us forever. All these things of beauty and experiences give us joy that is never-ending and nectar-like. These bounties of nature are showered on us from the heaven giving us hope and reason to live.

Word meanings

Bower – shaded place

Morrow – tomorrow

Wreathing – form into a wreath

Despondence – depressed, disappointed, dispirited

Dearth – lack of

Noble natures – good qualities

Gloomy – sad

Pall – funeral cloth, dark cloud

Boon – blessing

Rills – small stream

Mid forest brake – a place in the forest where we stop to see musk-rose blooms

Musk rose – wild roses

Grandeur – grand splendor

Dooms – inescapable death

Mighty dead – the legendary heroes who are now dead but immortal due to their deeds

Endless fountain – never–ending cascade or source

Immortal drink – nectar that makes one live forever

Brink – edge

Rhyme scheme

The rhyme scheme of the poem is – aabb

Literary devices

Bower quite – shade is compared with the calmness that beauty provides

We wreathing – alliteration

Flowery band – metaphor for good memories

Some shape – alliteration

Of noble… / of all … – anaphora ( use of same word in consecutive lines)

Inversion – are we wreathing a flowery band ( reversed order of words)

Old and young – antithesis  (opposite words placed together)

Simple sheep – alliteration

Cooling covert – alliteration

Have heard – alliteration

Immortal drink – metaphor (beautiful things are like nectar- giving immortality)

Visual imagery is used in the entire description of things of beauty.