I think about a tiger. Twilight exalts
The vast and never-resting library
And seems to make the shelves of books recede;
Powerful, innocent, new-made, stained with blood,
He will move through his rainforest and morning,
Will leave his spoor upon the muddy bank
Of a river whose name must be unknown to him.
(In his world there are neither names nor past
Nor future, only an eternal present.)
And he will cover inhuman distances
And sniff out in the winding labyrinth
Of odors the true odor of the dawn
And the delectable odor of a deer.
Among the bamboo's sunstripes I make out
The sway of his stripes and I have a sense
Of bone beneath the dazzle of rippling hide.
In vain the swelling seas, the mountain ranges,
The deserts of the planet come between us.
From this house in a somnolent, remote
South American port, I seek you, dreaming,
Oh tiger of the far banks of the Ganges.
Evening spreads in my soul and I reflect
That the apostrophized tiger of my poem
Is a tiger made of symbols and of shadows,
An endless string of literary tropes
And things remembered from encyclopedias,
And not the fatal tiger, the dread jewel
Who goes on under the sun or changeful moon
Completing in Sumatra or Bengal
His round of love and indolence and death.
Against this tiger of symbol I have opposed
The actual tiger, tiger of hot blood,
The one who decimates the buffalo tribe,
And today, 3 August 1959,
See, lengthening on the grassland afternoon,
A stationary shadow, but already
The fact of having given it a name
And dreaming up its habits and surroundings
Makes it a fiction, not a living creature
Among the living creatures of the earth.
It is a third tiger we are seeking.
Just like the others this will be a shape
Out of my dreams, a system of human words
And not the tiger himself, the vertebrate tiger
Who treads the earth, far beyond the reach
Of our mythologies. I know all this,
Yet something sends me on this open-ended
Ancient adventure, and I persevere
In hunting through the hours of afternoon
The other tiger, the one not in the poem.