A tiger comes to mind. The twilight here Exalts the vast and busy Library And seems to set the bookshelves back in gloom; Innocent, ruthless, bloodstained, sleek It wanders through its forest and its day Printing a track along the muddy banks Of sluggish streams whose names it does not know (In its world there are no names or past Or time to come, only the vivid now) And makes its way across wild distances Sniffing the braided labyrinth of smells And in the wind picking the smell of dawn And tantalizing scent of grazing deer; Among the bamboo's slanting stripes I glimpse The tiger's stripes and sense the bony frame Under the splendid, quivering cover of skin. Curving oceans and the planet's wastes keep us Apart in vain; from here in a house far off In South America I dream of you, Track you, O tiger of the Ganges' banks.
It strikes me now as evening fills my soul That the tiger addressed in my poem Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols And scraps picked up at random out of books, A string of labored tropes that have no life, And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel That under sun or stars or changing moon Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling Its rounds of love and indolence and death. To the tiger of symbols I hold opposed The one that's real, the one whose blood runs hot As it cuts down a herd of buffaloes, And that today, this August third, nineteen Fifty-nine, throws its shadow on the grass; But by the act of giving it a name, By trying to fix the limits of its world, It becomes a fiction not a living beast, Not a tiger out roaming the wilds of earth.
We'll hunt for a third tiger now, but like The others this one too will be a form Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths Paces the earth. I know these things quite well, Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest, And I go on pursuing through the hours Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.