Study Guide

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers Art and Culture

By Adrienne Rich

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Art and Culture

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. (1-4)

The poem begins with this introduction to the tapestry that Aunt Jennifer is creating. The tigers are full of vim, vigor, and vitality—they are brightly colored, they are unafraid and chivalric, and they are prancing. There is such life in this stanza, thanks to the art it describes.

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. (5-8)

We now find out that Aunt J's process of creation is laborious. She is being held back (symbolically) by her wedding band, which represents the strictures and limitations of marriage. The difficulty that Aunt J experiences in creating her work is very different from the carefree attitude of the prancing tigers that she creates. (No rings on those tigers, let us tell you.)

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. (9-12)

Here the speaker imagines Aunt Jennifer's death, and says that the tigers will live on after Aunt J kicks the bucket, buys the farm, takes the dirt nap—you get the idea. It's a pretty powerful image, if we do say so ourselves. A dead aunt on the one hand, and prancing topaz tigers on the other. (It kind of reminds us of a dream we had once.) The poem gives us some hope that the power of Aunt J's art will live on even after her death.

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