Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tigers of Paper . . . and of Metaphysique

Nineteenth-Century Painting
(Image from Wikipedia)

I went hunting for more poems by A.D. Hope and returned from my hunt with a paper tiger . . . followed by a more authentic one in the same poem (and another scary one in a different poem shortly thereafter):
At noon the paper tigers roar
- Miroslav Holub

The paper tigers roar at noon;
The sun is hot, the sun is high.
They roar in chorus, not in tune,
Their plaintive, savage hunting cry.

O, when you hear them, stop your ears
And clench your lids and bite your tongue.
The harmless paper tiger bears
Strong fascination for the young.

His forest is the busy street;
His dens the forum and the mart;
He drinks no blood, he tastes no meat:
He riddles and corrupts the heart.

But when the dusk begins to creep
From tree to tree, from door to door,
The jungle tiger wakes from sleep
And utters his authentic roar.

It bursts the night and shakes the stars
Till one breaks blazing from the sky;
Then listen! If to meet it soars
Your heart's reverberating cry,

My child, then put aside your fear:
Unbar the door and walk outside!
The real tiger waits you there;
His golden eyes shall be your guide.

And, should he spare you in his wrath,
The world and all the worlds are yours;
And should he leap the jungle path
And clasp you with his bloody jaws,

Then say, as his divine embrace
Destroys the mortal parts of you:
I too am of that royal race
Who do what we are born to do.
One might think that "stars" does not rhyme with "soars," but in Australian, it does . . . just in case anyone was thinking to object.

According to Wikipedia, "paper tiger" is a literal translation of the Chinese zhǐ lǎohǔ (Chinese: 紙老虎), meaning something that seems as threatening as a tiger but is really harmless, but you knew that. A.D. Hope borrows Miroslav Holub's line "At noon the paper tigers roar," but I don't know from where he lifts it. Undoubtedly not from Holub's immunological works.

Hope's poem should probably be read in conjunction with William Blake's 1794 poem, "The Tyger":
The Tyger
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
In one of the English lessons that I gave to my daughter, we read this poem by Blake, and she loved it . . . in her innocence. Perhaps she should also read Hope's tiger poem to help her learn the difference between real and paper tigers.

I'm still working on that difference.

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At 2:11 AM, Anonymous Nerida said...

Australian born and bred - soars doesn't rhyme with stars in any Australian accent, but otherwise great post.

At 7:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Maybe A.D. Hope's idiolect?

Jeffery Hodges

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