In the poem "The Jaguar," Ted Hughes is watching a jaguar's cage in a zoo, as he shows both awe and fear towards the large cat. The poem begins by describing other animals in the zoo, not as powerful or as mesmerizing as the jaguar but also found in cages and bored by their monotonous and repetitive life. Then it describes the crowd, people passing by and observing the creature. And finally the poem shows the conflict of the jaguar against its cage, the animal that cannot be trapped mentally. Like many of Hughes' poems, nature rising over mankind is a very strong theme, showing the animal's superiority over the humans who imprisoned it. .
In the first stanza we are introduced to a zoo, a scenario where lions, apes, tigers and parrots all come together, all lazy and trying to "attract the stroller with the nut" while laying "in the sun". We pass by these very indifferent animals and watch as they sleep in their cages, seeming not to care and simply "fatigued with indolence". To a common visitor of the zoo, these animals are not exactly what anyone is looking forward to see, and as "cage after cage seems empty" most of the life in the zoo is gone and the only sign of animal life is the stink. By now people already found another animal to stare at besides the ones "painted on a nursery wall"; the jaguar. Later on, Hughes describes the crowd, the people who "run like the rest" past the boring animals, and find themselves staring at the jaguar as it paces in its cage. No one is interested in seeing the lazy animals; they always want to see the dangerous creature that is showing rebellion towards its cage as it is "hurrying enraged". The jaguar is showing instinctive and primal characteristics, signs of its animalistic nature, and "the crowd stands, stares, mesmerized" by its strength and vitality. This is a very strong criticism towards humans and their interest towards observing the wild, their need to watch these animals while they are imprisoned and vulnerable, for we can only fully see them while they feel trapped and we feel safe.