“Second Glance at a Jaguar” from Wodwo (1967) is a companion piece to the “The Jaguar,” and should be read along with the same. Ted Hughes wrote “Second Jaguar” ten years after he wrote the first “The Jaguar.” The ‘glance’ in the title, far from being a mere glance, focuses on intricate detail.
In the “Jaguar,” Ted Hughes depicted a zoo in which animals are caged in different slots, each characterized by sluggishness and sloth. In contrast to the other languorous creatures, the jaguar holds it own, through its magnificence and sounds its existence by asserting itself. Thus, the poem “The Jaguar’ is a statement on man’s modern state of existence where people are compartmentalized into leading a mechanical life. In a machine-like state, they relegate their individuality, and function like cogs in the wheel of society and pay no heed to voice their seity.
The poem “Second Glance at a Jaguar” focusses on the animal itself. The latter lacks the co-ordination and conventional form of the former poem. The poem succeeds in the effect it makes on the reader. The poem comes across as an artist’s instinctive stroke focusing on detail. Hughes foregrounds the Jaguar and marks his deviation from the System. He appears formidable in his movements. To quote David Punter in “Eastern and Western Metaphor”: “The movement and shape of the jaguar challenge all our preconceptions about mind and body.”
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
Though it darts and holds cover like the cat, the difference is marked in the majesty of it and the need for survival. As Hughes compares it with the cat, it cannot be perceived as an escapist movement. It is rather its expression for a continued existence.
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,
Alan Norman Bold describes the poem as a kind of travesty of Hughes’ previous poems with regard to the above lines where each feature is exaggerated. The phrase “Aztec disemboweller” he says, is used to refer to the one-eyed Aztec Gods. Apart from the statement of this critic, the comparison may also serve to mythify the tiger not as a specimen of reality but by investing it with supernatural powers. Verbs like ‘swinging,’ ‘trying’ give the sense of things occurring right before ours eyes in the present continuous. There is the attempt to evoke the image visually through mentioning of shapes like ’round’, square’.etc. The word ‘terrible’ juxtaposed against ‘waddle’ makes the creature real yet surreal; with the attribute of clumsiness mixed awe.
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
The hair on his head comes across as spilling embers with its fiery colour. The jaguar is celebrated through assigning significance to each of its action, like for instance, even the slightest action of his lapping water from the trough. The act of sticking his tongue out is described as wearing his skin out. The idea of action occurring in the present is reiterated with verbs such as ‘showing’,’carrying’.etc. The comparison of his belly to the butterfly serves to illustrate the instinctive freedom that this jaguar possesses and exploits to the full, as opposed to the one in “The Jaguar” that is caged and is unable to fully realize itself. Each stride of the Jaguar is corrected to perfection. Again, there is the juxtaposition of the majestic and trivial,once again, as the poet asserts that the jaguar’s head is like “the worn down stump of another whole jaguar.” This reinforces the idea of tagging the poem as a travesty of Hughes’ previous poems.
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 oval,
Muttering some mantrah, 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.
The inexorable vitality and vigour is underlined as the body is portrayed as an engine focusing on the action, and not intent. The air is lifted and shoved right under as though nature is his plaything. His wild looks coupled with the daredevil fangs portray him as a Gangster. The attempt here is reciprocal to the previous attempt of the poet as the paranormal is humanized here. The phrase “drum-song of murder” points to the inherent violent impulse, the killer-instinct. Again, there is the concurrence of the splendid and the inconsequential as there is the description of the club-tail lumped along gracelessly (with connotations of impotency). The mantra is his fuel to fire his rage. The passion renders his skin intolerable. It is the rosette that spurs this trait in him. By ‘rosette,’ the poet means the badge assigned to him, the inevitable gene. This gene(vulnerable to violence) in him defines him, like violence defined Cain in history, rather than Cain defining violence. The conspicuous spots are worn from the inside as they truly belong to him, and are not just an external embellishment. The spots at once echo ‘revenge’ and ‘prayer-wheel’ in the same vein-they combine instinct and religiosity in a single instance. The head dragging, the hind legs lagging , the body keeps it up in studied balance. The blackjack tail coils and flourishes as it seeks out a target .The last line has the words ‘underworld’ and ‘soundless’ attributing an enigmatic secrecy to the Jaguar.
© Rukhaya MK 2010
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