Ted Hughes' "The Jaguar" is a description from a narrator admiring the fiery spirit of a caged jaguar, seeing the wilderness not as something tangible, but something embodied in its behavior and stride. The poem can be divided into two parts; the first two stanzas, describing the other animals in the zoo, and the last three, where the jaguar is both introduced and described. The two parts have many differences, creating vastly different moods. One of the most notable differences is the difference in description between the jaguar and the other animals in the zoo. The jaguar is given the impression of being wild and fierce, and one can clearly feel how impressed the narrator is with the animal. The other animals, in the first part, are portrayed in an entirely different manner. They are each portrayed as being weak, lazy or generally unimpressive. From the very first line, the apes are described as yawning and doing nothing but admiring their fleas. The parrots 'shriek', an action associated with cowardice or fear, or 'strut like cheap tarts'. This suggests distaste from the narrator, and that he does not hold a very high opinion of these animals. Even the tigers and lions, usually typical examples of great predators, are 'fatigued with indolence'. The writer's use of the word 'indolence' is significant in this line, as they are not fatigued due to having performed any action, but due to a lack of motivation to do anything at all. This again adds to the impression that the narrator is less than impressed by the animals.
The jaguar, in contrast, is fierce and mesmerizing. In the last line of the third stanza, we find the phrase 'through prison darkness'. This has an almost sinister feeling to it, greatly contrasting the docile feeling of the first two stanzas. The jaguar is threatening, with an almost dark beauty. This also creates a contrast to the described scenery in the first stanza.