A Tiger in the Zoo By Leslie Norris

This poem contrasts a tiger in the zoo with the tiger in its natural habitat. The poem moves from the zoo to the jungle, and back again to the zoo. Read the poem silently once, and say which stanzas speak about the tiger in the zoo, and which ones speak about the tiger in the jungle.

He stalks in his vivid stripes

The few steps of his cage,

On pads of velvet quiet,

In his quiet rage.

 

He should be lurking in shadow,

Sliding through long grass

Near the water hole

Where plump deer pass.

 

He should be snarling around houses

at the jungle’s edge,

Baring his white fangs, his claws,

Terrorising the village!

 

But he’s locked in a concrete cell,

His strength behind bars,

Stalking the length of his cage,

Ignoring visitors.

 

He hears the last voice at night,

The patrolling cars,

And stares with his brilliant eyes

At the brilliant stars.

 

LESLIE NORRIS

A Tiger in the Zoo Summary

Explanation of the Poem

Stanza 1

He stalks in his vivid stripes

The few steps of his cage,

On pads of velvet quiet,

In his quiet rage.

Explanation

The poet sees a tiger locked in a concrete cell in the zoo. It is a very small cage. The tiger can hardly take a few steps along the length of the cage.  He looks majestic as he slowly moves up and down in his cage. The sharp and clear stripes on his body are of strong bright colour. His pads are velvet soft. Inspite of all his strength, he now lies imprisoned behind the bars. The caged tiger is angry. He is full of rage, but is quiet because he knows that he is helpless here.

Stanza 2

He should be lurking in shadow,

Sliding through long grass

Near the water hole

Where plump deer pass.

Explanation

Looking at the imprisoned tiger, the poet is filled with pity. He says that the poor tiger should have been in his natural habitat i.r. in the jungle, hunting and resting. Then, at this hour of the night, he would have been lying in the shadows of trees and sliding quietly through the long grass. He would, then, near the water hole, wait for some fat and healthy deer to pass that way. Thus, he would be lying there in expectation of a heavy feast.

Stanza 3

He should be snarling around houses

At the jungle’s edge,

Baring his white fangs, his claws,

Terrorising the village!

Explanation

In these lines, the poet imagines what the tiger would be doing in case he failed to find any prey in his natural habitat. He says that the tiger would be angrily moving around the houses in a nearby village. He would be growling at the edge of the jungle near some village.  He would showing his white fangs and terrible claws while moving here and there. He would, thus, become a cause of error for the villagers.

The poet here gives a hint that if we continue to destroy the forest cover and the natural habitat of the tigers, they will be forced to turn to our towns and villages to find their food.

Stanza 4

But he’s locked in a concrete cell,

His strength behind bars,

Stalking the length of his cage,

Ignoring visitors.

Explanation

The poet sees the tiger is locked in a concrete cell in the zoo. Inspite of all his strength, he now lies imprisoned behind the bars. Very slowly and silently, the tiger moves up and down along the length of the cage. He moves in an angry and threatening manner. He takes no note of the visitors, who had come to the zoo to have a look at him. He completely ignores them as none of them thinks of releasing him from his prison. Moreover, due to their presence, he hardly gets any rest during the day.

Stanza 5

He hears the last voice at night,

The patrolling cars,

And stares with his brilliant eyes

At the brilliant stars.

Explanation

Due to the visitors, the tiger gets no rest during the day. Even at night, he remains disturbed due to the noise that comes from the patrolling cars. The tiger has, thus, lost all hope and feels very helpless. He, thus, stares at the brilliant stars shining bright in the sky. It seems that he is looking for some sort of comfort and hope in these stars. His brilliant eyes show that he still hopes for the day when he would be able to run free in the forest and live in natural surroundings.

Central Idea of Poem

The poem ‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ is written by Leslie Norris. In this poem, the poet tries to depict the mental condition of a caged tiger. He compares the life of a tiger in the zoo with tits life in its natural habitat. The poet conveys an important message that the wild animals should be left in their natural habitat. In the poem, he heightens the contrast between freedom and captivity. He, very impressively, shows us how love for freedom is the natural instinct of every living being.

Poetic Devices Used in the Poem

Repetition : Repetition of words/phrases in the same line.

  • velvet quiet quiet rage
  • brilliant eyes brilliant stars

Alliteration : Repetition of initial consonant sounds in the same line

  • He stalks in his vivid stripes
  • But he’s locked in a concrete cell

Rhyme

The rhyme scheme for first, second and fifth stanza is abcb and for third and fifth stanza is abcd.

Word Meanings

stalks : stride, to move quietly and slowly in a threatening way

vivid : bright, clear

stripes : long narrow bands

pads : the soft part under the foot of the tiger

rage : anger

lurking : hiding

sliding : moving

hole : pool

plump : chubby

snarling : to make an angry and warning sound

baring : showing

fangs : two long sharp teeth at the front of the mouth of some animals

terrorising : frightening or threatening, to create fear

concrete cell : a very small and unpleasant cage

stalking : moving slowly and quietly in a threatening way

patrolling : to go around an area at regular times to check that it is safe

brilliant : very bright

Questions and Answers

NCERT Solutions

Think about the Poem (Page 49)

Question 1 : Does ‘Dyin’ really rhyme with ‘lion’? Can you say it in such a way that it does?

Answer : No, ‘Dyin’ does not rhyme with ‘lion’. If we change the pronunciation of lion by speaking it as ‘lying’ then it may rhyme with the word ‘Dyin’.

Question 2 : How does the poet suggest that you identify the lion and the tiger? When can you do so according to him?

Answer : A lion is a large and tawny beast. A Bengal Tiger has black stripes on its yellow coat. A lion roars when it falls upon its prey, while a tiger attacks silently. We can identify the two while roaming in the jungle.

Question 3 : Do you think the words ‘lept’ and ‘lep’ in the third stanza are spelt correctly? Why does the poet spell them like this?

Answer : The words ‘lept’ and ‘lep’ are not spelt correctly. The poet has spelt them like this in order to maintain the rhythm of the poem. The correct spelling of the words, ‘lept’ is leapt and ‘lep’ is leap. The poet has intentionally spelt them incorrectly to create a sense of humour.

Question 4 : Do you know that a ‘bear hug’ is? It’s a friendly and strong hug-such as Bears are thought to give , as they attack you! Again, hyenas are thought to laugh and crocodiles to weep (‘crocodile tears’) as they swallow their victims. Are there similar expressions and popular ideas about wild animals in your own language(s)?

Answer : A bear hug is when the bear hugs his prey tightly with both hands and presses him to death.

There are indeed similar expressions and popular ideas about wild animals in every language. For example, in Hindi, we say ‘Magarmach ke aansu aana’ (crocodile tears), ‘haathi ke daant dikhane ke aur, khane ke aur’, ‘Ab pachtaye hot kya jab chidiya chug gai khet’, ‘Girgit ke tarah rang badalna’.

Question 5 : Look at the line “A novice might nonplus.” How would you write this ‘correctly’? Why is the poet’s ‘incorrect’ line better in the poem?

Answer : The line “A novice might nonplus” can be written correctly as “A novice might be nonplussed”. However, the poet’s incorrect line is better in the poem at it maintains the rhyme scheme of the poem. by writing it incorrectly, ‘nonplus’ rhymes with ‘thus’.

Question 6 : Can you find other examples of poets taking liberties with language, either in English or in your own language? Can you find examples of humorous poems in your own language(s)?

Answer : One can find plenty of examples in poetry where poets take liberties with language. This is called ‘poetic licence’. Poets take such liberties in order to create proper rhyming and rhythm. For example, in the following lines the word ‘prest’ is used instead of ‘pressed’ so that it may rhyme with ‘breast’.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.

Question 7 : Much of the humor in the poem arises from the way language is used. Although the ideas are funny as well. If there are particular lines in the poem that you especially like, share these lines with the class, speaking briefly about what it is about the ideas or the language that you like or find funny.

Answer : The way the poet has used language and ideas in the poem is indeed humorous. The lines from the poem that appear to be funny are “A noble wild beast greets you”. The idea that a wild beast is going to welcome you is quite funny. The language in the line, “He’ll only lep and lep again” is also very humorous. The concept of ‘lep’ from the word ‘leopard’ generate humour.

Extra Questions

Extract Based Questions

Read the following extracts carefully and choose the correct option.

Question 1 :

He stalks in his vivid stripes,

The few steps of his cage,

On pads of velvet quiet,

In his quiet rage.

i) Where is the tiger at present?

a) In the forest

b) In a circus

c) In a cage

d) In a room

ii) Mention any one quality of the animal under reference.

a) Quiet

b) Desperate

c) Vivid stripes of his body

d) Roaring

iii) Which word in the stanza may also mean graphic or picturesque

a) Strips

b) Velvet

c) Quiet

d) Vivid

iv) Why is the tiger in ‘quiet rage’?

a) Movement restricted

b) Freedom curtailed

c) Not fed properly

d) Both (a) and (b)

Answer : i) a) In the forest

ii) c) Vivid stripes of his body

iii) d) Vivid

iv) d) Both (a) and (b)

Question 2 :

He should be lurking in shadow,

Sliding through long grass,

Near the water hole,

Where plump deer pass.

i) Who is ‘He’ here?

a) Zoo curator

b) Poet

c) The tiger

d) Deer

ii) Suddenly the focus from tiger in the case shifts to…………

a) tiger killing a deer

b) tiger’s natural place of habitat

c) tiger’s situation in a circus

d) None of the above

iii) Which word in the stanza will mean ‘to lie or wait in concealment’?

a) Shadow

b) Water hole

c) Sliding

d) Lurking

iv) What does the tiger do in the forest?

a) hiding behind some trees

b) Sitting near a water hole

c) Roaming around the whole jungle

d) Both (a) and (b)

Answer : i) c) The tiger

ii) b) Tiger’s natural place of habitat

iii) d) lurking

iv) d) Both (a) and (b)

Short Questions and Answers

Question 1 : How can you identify the Asian Lion and the Bengal Tiger?

Answer : The Asian Lion has a large body and a brownish-yellow colour. It roars loudly when it attacks its prey. On the other hand, the Bengal Tiger has black stripes on the yellow background of its body. It silently attacks its prey.

Question 2 : Write the sum and substance of the poem, ‘How to Tell Wild Animals’.

Answer : The poet, Carolyn Wells, in the poem suggests some of the dangerous ways to identify the wild animals. The poem is full of humorous examples when the poet tries to distinguish one animal from the other. Moreover, the poem educates us by describing the various features of wild animals.

Question 3 : How can you distinguish between a tiger and a leopard?

Answer : A tiger has black stripes on its yellow coat. A leopard on the other hand, does not have any stripes. It has spots peppered on its body. Moreover, a tiger kills only when it is hungry, while a leopard can kill for the pleasure of killing by pouncing continuously on its prey.

Question 4 : How can you distinguish between a hyena and a crocodile?

Answer : A hyena and a crocodile both behave differently. Their distinct behaviour helps us to distinguish between them. A hyena comes to its victims with a merry smile while a crocodile sheds tears.

Question 5 : What are the distinctive features of the Asian Lion as given in the poem?

Answer : The Asian Lion is large in stature. It is brownish-yellow in colour. It roars very loudly. The sound of its roar is so terrible to hear that it can make one almost die due to fear. The Asian Lion is found in the forests of East Asian countries.

Question 6 : What does the Bengal Tiger look like? What is so distinct about him?

Answer : The Bengal Tiger roams freely in the forest. It is noble and majestic in stature. It wears black stripes on a yellow hide. When it notices someone it tries to eat him. The Bengal Tiger attacks its prey very silently and grasps it with its terrifying teeth.

Question 7 : How does a leopard behave when he sees someone?

Answer : A leopard has black spots all over its body. As soon as it sees someone, it leaps over him at once. It keeps on pouncing continuously on its victim, attacks him and starts eating him.

Question 8 : How does the poet describe the bear?

Answer : The poet describes the bear in a humorous way. He says that as soon as a bear sees a human being, it hugs him tightly. It clasps its prey tightly with both its hands and squeezes him to death. If he is still alive, it gives him another tight hug to kill him.

Question 9 : What is so weird about the hyena and the crocodile?

Answer : Some animals such as the hyena and the crocodile are famous for their weird behaviour. For example, a laughing hyena’s voice resembles human’s laughing sound. Moreover, a Hyena laughs while swallowing its prey, while a crocodile sheds tears.

Question 10 : Describe a few characteristics of a chameleon.

Answer : A chameleon is a garden lizard and is an expert at camouflage. It changes its colour as per its surroundings. This ability of camouflage helps it in saving it from the hunters. A chameleon does not have any ears or wings.

Long Questions and Answers

Question 1 : ‘Humour is the best medicine for every ailment in life’. Comment.

Answer : Humour is infectious. When humour is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness. Humour strengthens our immune system, boosts our energy, diminishes pain and protects us from the damaging effects of stress. It is the priceless medicine for every ailment in life. The poet, in the poem ‘How to Tell Wild Animals’ creates humour by describing various beasts of prey. The way the poet explains the things is very funny yet interesting. The poet has depicted the wildlife very vividly and in a lively manner. While reading the poem, the readers enjoy the poet’s work and it leaves them refreshed and happy.