In "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers," explain the ideas that the caesura in the first and fourth lines of the last stanza emphasize.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Adrienne Rich’s poem “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” is narrated by a relative. Apparently, the narrator has observed the aunt working with her tapestries many times.  The poem employs visual imagery that provides a striking portrayal of an abused woman.  For the aunt, her hobby has become her sanctuary.  

Full of symbolism, the poem reveals the beauty of Aunt Jennifer’s tapestry which depicts tigers strutting across green forestry with men underneath. The men pace below as though they are knights of old. The picture is lively and bright.

In the second stanza,  the mood changes. The tigers are replaced with a visualization of Aunt Jennifer. The observer notices the aunt’s hands as her fingers work with  the wool. Using foreshadowing,  the heaviness of the Uncle’s wedding ring weighs down her hands. 

The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

It is important to note that it is not the aunt’s marriage ring but rather the Uncle’s wedding band.  Obviously, the ring symbolizes the relationship between the couple.  The uncle ‘s ring is the aunt’s band which figuratively keeps the aunt tied to the uncle. The woman is adept at her craft, yet she finds it hard to work with the restraints she feels in her life. Further, her fluttering fingers indicate a weakness and nervousness unusual to someone working in a beloved craft.

The question referred to the caesura in the first and fourth lines in the last stanza.

The transference of ideas from the second to the third verse is shocking. The first stop comes after the phrase “When Aunt is dead…” The reader is not sure if the aunt’s death has already happened, or it is a prediction based on the aunt’s life and abuse.  Obviously, the aunt will die.  The questions that must be answered are when and why. So little is said about the specifics of the aunt’s life; however, the reader is given enough to know that she is unhappy, nervous, and terrified. 

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

 Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

 Her life has been full of torments or sufferings which she has learned to survive.  Even in death, her hand will still have the heavy ring that represents her terror and abuse. 

The second stop comes in the middle of the description of the tapestry or panel that the aunt created.  Despite her death, the tigers will not change. They will not go on because they had the strength that the aunt lacked; furthermore, they lived with no fear unlike the aunt.  The tigers may have represented the life that the aunt wished that she could have lived.  In a beautiful setting, she would be able to frolic and run without fear from the man beneath her.

Rich’s message demonstrates that women often live as victims who do not know how to extricate themselves from the abusive environment. The poem points up the woman who is imprisoned even in her own world, who wants to live passionately and just as she desires.  



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