Commentary on Hughes' "The Jaguar"

Ted Hughes' poem “The Jaguar” describes a zoo and the animals therein from the perspective of an outsider. While most of the creatures in captivity are bored and docile, the magnificent jaguar is full of life.
The poem consists of five stanzas; the first two describe the almost static existence of most of the captive animals, and the next three describe the jaguar who is energetic and untamed. This provides a strong contrast, emphasizing that the jaguar is distinct from the other animals in the zoo.
Hughes makes significant use of enjambment. There is enjambment between all stanzas, except stanzas two and three. This division between the two sections of the poem further emphasizes the jaguar's separateness.
Hughes seems to have chosen simple words to represent the simplicity of life in the zoo, as well as the simple theme of the text: the immorality of animal captivity.
He makes use of alliteration, especially the drawn-out and lazy 's' sound, for example, “Stinks of sleepers” and “still as the sun”. The recurring 'b' sound in “By the bang of blood in the brain” imitates the pumping of blood.
Imagery is prominent throughout the poem. Parrots “shriek as if they were on fire” and “strut like cheap tarts”, suggesting that they have brightly coloured plumage. Strutting is a lazy movement and adds to the subdued atmosphere. Hughes continues in this tone describing tigers and lions, who “lie still as the sun”. This comparison to the sun paints a picture of a long, hot day. “The boa constrictor's coil is a fossil” further emphasizes the stillness and lifelessness of the zoo.
The imagery used in the first two stanzas serves to describe the zoo as both colourful and static. The conclusion of these stanzas proves this, when Hughes writes that the zoo “might be painted on a nursery wall.”
Dull as the captive animals are, visitors at the zoo are bored by them. They do, however, find excitement in watching the jaguar: “But who runs like the rest past these arrives at a...