‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ by Adrienne Rich.


when two or more words in close connection begin with the same letter or sound and affect the ear with an echoing sound. Examples include the childhood doggerel. ‘Betty bought a bit of butter but the butter Betty bought was bitter’. Emily Dickinson uses alliteration as in ‘Berries of the Bahamas – have I – / But this little Blaze .  .  .’;  Larkin in ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ – A ‘slow and stopping curve southwards’ we kept’;  Seamus Heaney’s ‘to the tick of two clocks’.  Glossary of Literary Terms in Poetry Now Leaving Certificate English Ordinary Level 2004, by Niall MacMonagle, (pg 212).


(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 the’ 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.

In this poem, the poet, Aunt Jennifer’s niece, describes a tapestry or piece of embroidery which Aunt Jennifer is making. Poetry Now, pg 139.

Adrienne Cecile Rich (born:16/05/1929) is an American poet, essayist and feminist. She has been called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century.” This poem is always on the Irish Leaving Cert English curriculum.

I find the study notes  > RICH, Adrienne – Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers and here > Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Summary – Adrienne Rich – Magill’s Survey of …very informative.

I also came across an analysis of “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”. It speaks of symbolism, etc, within, and helps enormously in understanding the message in the poem.

It is difficult to depict a primary poetic technique within this poem. The reason being that, many devices are used to bring forth the message that Rich has embedded within it. However, symbolism is the most prominent. The poem is set in a traditional format, using simple rhyme and meter to give the reader a sense of formality.

 Adrienne Rich‘s “Aunt Jennifer‘s Tigers”, depicts an audacious woman trapped within a timid and suppressed life. Marriage and the culture that supports it have effected the character in this poem greatly. Reality seems inescapable because of the ring that “sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer‘s hand”. The tapestry that Aunt Jennifer is creating in the poem, is very symbolic of her potential. When you picture a tiger, the words power, fluidity, nobility, and strength may accompany that image. Those same words accompany the hidden life of Aunt Jennifer.

Wow, the latter part of the poem speaks volumes and could be taken directly from a post of the kind, which, Ophelia Benson deals with most of the time, at the very popular Butterflies and Wheels website.

Update: Sadly Adrienne Rich has now passed away. Condolences to her family.


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