30 March 2017

Poetry Thursday - Aunt Jennifer's Tigers by Adrienne Rich

Tipu's tiger (via)

Aunt Jennifer's tigers

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.

               - Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

The poem was written when Adrienne Rich was a student at Radcliffe College - see the manuscript here. In his foreword to her first poetry collection, published in 1951, WH Auden said that the twenty-one-year-old’s poems “are neatly and modestly dressed, speak quietly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them.” Certainly, neither she nor her poems were cowed. By the early 1960s, Rich had largely abandoned formal verse and developed a personal, often confessional, narrative voice.

To me, the poem is as much, or more, about the power of needlework as personal liberation as it is about suppression of women in the bonds of matrimony. You've undoubtedly got a mental picture of Jennifer's tapestry, nor could I find a photo of something appropriate, so instead the image is another reflection of the poem, perhaps an idea that went through Jennifer's mind as she stitched. 

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