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Second Glance at a Jaguar – Ted Hughes

Second Glance at Jaguar | Ted Hughes

Skinful of bowls, he bowls them,
The hip going in and out of joint, dropping the spine
With the urgency of his hurry
Like a cat going along under thrown stones, under cover,
Glancing sideways, running
Under his spine. A terrible, stump-legged waddle
Like a thick Aztec disemboweller,
Club-swinging, trying to grind some square
Socket between his hind legs round,
Carrying his head like a brazier of spilling embers,
And the black bit of his mouth, he takes it
Between his back teeth, he has to wear his skin out,
He swipes a lap at the water-trough as he turns,
Swiveling the ball of his heel on the polished spot,
Showing his belly like a butterfly
At every stride he has to turn a corner
In himself and correct it. His head
Is like the worn down stump of another whole jaguar,
His body is just the engine shoving it forward,
Lifting the air up and shoving on under,
The weight of his fangs hanging the mouth open,
Bottom jaw combing the ground. A gorged look,
Gangster, club-tail lumped along behind gracelessly,
He’s wearing himself to heavy ovals,
Muttering some mantra, some drum-song of murder
To keep his rage brightening, making his skin
Intolerable, spurred by the rosettes, the cain-brands,
Wearing the spots from the inside,
Rounding some revenge. Going like a prayer-wheel,
The head dragging forward, the body keeping up,
The hind legs lagging. He coils, he flourishes
The blackjack tail as if looking for a target,
Hurrying through the underworld, soundless.

On Second Glance at a Jaguar

“Second Glance at a Jaguar” is probably my favorite Ted Hughes poem. It captures the raw, animal rhythms of his poetry. It has great imagery. “Second Glance at a Jaguar” revisits a poem, “Jaguar,” from his first collection The Hawk in the Rain. The first jaguar poem is about how animals in a zoo are so depressed, caged in slots and separated, but content with it except the Jaguar who “… hurrying enraged / Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes // On a short fierce fuse.” Hughes is almost certainly making a connection to humanity in that poem. This second jaguar poem is all about those moments, those movements. He’s pacing as if he’s plotting, as if his refusal to grow weary is an act of rebellion. Hughes said that poems are like animals; he addresses this in another poem. He wrote a lot about animals and many times as a way to talk about humanity.

There’s no legal copy of Ted Hughes reading “Second Glance at a Jaguar” online. You’ll have to buy the wonderful CD, Ted Hughes Reading His Poetry to hear it. But here’s Seamus Heaney reading “The Thought Fox” by Ted Hughes.

A More Academic Way of Discussing Second Glance at a Jaguar

“Second Glance at a Jaguar” is a 33 line consonantal or alliterative accentual verse poem. It is written with a large influence of the Anglo-Saxon and Old English traditions. It is also very aware of the Modern relative stress principle and the limitations of the English language in the approach of a more Germanic prosody. The jaguar can also be seen as a direct metaphor for Hughes’ own relationship with poetics in his contemporary landscape.

In “Imagining Ted Hughes,” scholar Ryan Hibbett briefly analyzes the authorship of Hughes and his “place in English poetry” (Hibbett, 416). Early on, Hibbett quotes Hughes who wrote, “I think of poems as a sort of animal. They have their own life, like animals, by which I mean that they seem quite separate from any person, even from their author” (Hibbett, 417). Hibbett then writes that “[the quote] characterizes poetry as fragile—in danger of disappearing at the slightest intervention” (Hibbett, 417). This is precisely the anxiety which Hughes uses the jaguar in “Second Glance at a Jaguar” to write about. The animal in this piece is the animal of poetry. The kind of poetry represented by the jaguar is primal. It is primal and caged, caged externally—behind bars—and internally—beneath its own skin. For the purposes of this examination, the bars can be compared to the constraints of the classical approach to measuring meter in modern English poetry. The jaguar, or Hughes’ poetry, does not seek to be limited by the accentual syllabic foot. It’s something that Seamus Heaney noted in a 1979 interview:

Hughes’ voice, I think, is in rebellion against a certain kind of demeaned, mannerly voice. It’s a voice that has no truck with irony because his dialect is not like that … I think Hughes’ great cry and call and bawl is that the English language and English poetry is longer and deeper and rougher than that … It’s a form of calling out for more …

(Shapiro, 108)

In the earlier poem, “The Jaguar,” Hughes writes about a group of caged animals in a zoo who are listlessly on display: “apes yawn,” tigers and lions are “fatigued with indolence,” and the boa constrictor “is a fossil” (Selected, 4). The patrons in the zoo, however, all “crowd” to witness the jaguar who “on a short fierce fuse” acts as if “there’s no cage to him” and “his stride is wildernesses of freedom” (Selected, 5). The first half of that poem is mostly hexametric and consists of iambs or trochees with a few substitutions while the second half is very irregular with clusters of strong stresses. The jaguar is a primal animal, and since Hughes is searching for that “rougher and deeper” primal urgency, his choice of the jaguar is purposeful. There is a “close symbolic relationship between the jaguar, social status, warfare, and the wielding of spiritual and political power by shamans and chiefs” in Central and South America (Saunders, 107). This becomes the setup of the later poem and an introduction to Hughes’ aesthetics which are deeply rooted in mythology. He uses “Second Glance at Jaguar” to extend this metaphor through imagery and concept.

“Second Glance at a Jaguar” is a poem of transformation. There is the transformation in imagery of a pacing jaguar in a cage becoming a ceremonial Aztec warrior. There is the transformation in the alternating line lengths in the un-stanza’d couplets moving mostly from fewer stresses to more stresses to balance a ten stress unit. The language transforms; it mixes the origins of the English language with its Modern incarnation through musical and poetic devices. This poem is ultimately successful because it transforms, if interpreted in its own terms, the possibilities of how contemporary poetry can be read and written. This is only an excerpt from a longer paper. If you’d like to read that analysis of the poem, please e-mail me kevin[at]kevindublin.com. I can also send along the linked articles.

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