Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen, Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
Okay, everybody. We're going to take our time with this. Let's begin with the first two words, shall we? "Aunt Jennifer." What do we learn from these two words? Well, we learn a couple of things: we have a speaker who has an aunt named Jennifer. (Duh.) Also, the speaker speaks to us in a pretty familiar way—it's almost like she assumes that we already know who Aunt Jennifer is. She doesn't say, for example "my Aunt Jennifer." She just says the more intimate "Aunt Jennifer." This makes us think that the speaker is young, maybe even a child.
(By the way, the poem never indicates that the speaker is female, but we are going to go ahead and refer to her as "she" throughout, just to make everyone's lives easier.)
So, we've got a speaker, and we've got an Aunt Jennifer, and we feel pretty close to them already, don't you? The next word of the poem is "tigers." Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Aunt Jennifer has tigers? We need to find out more about this woman…
We keep find out that these tigers "prance across a screen." Total bummer. The tigers aren't real. Maybe they're on TV. Or maybe they're part of some art project. Either way, we now know that these tigers aren't in iron cages, just scattered throughout the house (that would be… wild). We'll need to keep reading to find out more.
The tigers don't seem particularly fierce—they're "prancing" across the tapestry, and "prancing" is a pretty lighthearted word. (Think about it: nobody "prances" through the line at the DMV, do they?) So to sum up: we have some happy, chill tigers on our hands.
Know what else we have here? Personification. In other words, the speaker is ascribing a human attribute like "prancing" to a non-human thing like an animal, or a representation of an animal,
Then in the next line, the speaker describes the prancing tigers even more. They are "bright topaz denizens of a world of green." Ooh, shiny.
A few vocab words are in order here. First: a topaz is a shiny crystal, and denizen means an inhabitant. So, to rephrase the poem a bit: the tigers are bright, crystalline animals that prance around their "world of green." What world might this be? We're guessing it's a forest, where tigers like to do their tiger-ly thing.
Though they only appear on some screen, these tigers seem pretty alive to us. They are bright and crystal-like, and they prance. Rich's colorful imagery is really vivid here.
One other thing to note: Have no fear, and be of cheer, for we've got rhyming happening here! These first two lines rhyme with each other ("screen" with "green"). When two lines rhyme one after the other, we call this a couplet. This poem is actually a poem of couplets: it's twelve lines long, and those twelve lines are made up of six couplets.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree: They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
In these lines, we get to know more about these tigers. (And hey, remember: they're not real.) The speaker further personifies the tigers, imagining that they have human feelings, like fear.
Except, like those awesome stickers, they have no fear. These tigers are brave tigers! They are not afraid of the men, even though they are right underneath the tigers.
The tigers are so brave that they "pace in sleek chivalric certainty."
A quick vocab lesson for those of you who don't love good ol' tales of lords and ladies, knights, and kings and queens (Game of Thrones, anyone?): chivalry was the code of honor of knights back in the day. So, "chivalric" connotes all those things that a true knight represents: loyalty, courtesy, and bravery.
These tigers, then, are sleek and stately, chivalric animals who pace with style. Once again, they're personified. Last time we checked, knights were generally humans, not tigers. Though, a tiger-knight would be super-rad.
But wait: what about these men beneath the tree on the tapestry? Well, the only thing we know is that they don't scare the tigers. The tigers are awesome bright topaz denizens of the forest who pace with honor and braveness. The men are just… well, men. The tigers have nothing to fear.
Finally, notice something about the rhythm of these two lines? Read them out loud and you should hear "da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM."
And that, friends, is the sound of some serious iambic pentameter. Might that formal choice be important for our understanding of the poem? Let's think about that… YES. Go check out "Form and Meter" for more on that.