A discussion in my writers’ group the other night made me think of poems and how to say so much with so little. A new person was there who writes poems. She’s very young and undeveloped, but once she learns to hone those images, she’ll probably write very good poetry. One of her poems was very good, and it was the most sparse of the ones she brought. Her imagery was right on, so I’m quite sure she’ll develop as a poet so long as she doesn’t give up (always a danger with writers).

I was inspired to go hunting through the store for one of my favorite poems. I read it to the group to mixed reactions. The fact it rhymes put some of them off, mostly because people have this idea that rhyming is passe, but when we discussed the imagery and what it meant, we began to come to agreement on the power of the poem. I’ve found this poem in many places on the web, so present it here in hopes I am not violating any copyright issues. I urge you to read more poetry by Adrienne Rich.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich

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.

Aunt Jennifer’s fingers 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.

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.

What does this poem mean? Is Aunt Jennifer physically abused or just oppressed, as a woman of a certain time would have been? Are the tigers representative of her spirit? Or are they merely masculine images of a freedom she can never aspire to?

There are many ways to interpret the poem, of course. I like to think AJ is repressed by patriarchal expectations of what a woman’s role is, and that the tigers are representative of an unrepressible feminine spirit that remains unbowed beneath the outward manifestations of obedience. AJ the woman is broken by her life; AJ the spirit cannot be broken. Just my 2 cents and why I love poetry. 🙂