An intriguing if slightly enigmatic piece by the Australian poet A.D. Hope (1907-2000). Hope was a great admirer of W.B.Yeats and I think it shows in this poem’s aristocratic stance, its disdain for the values of materialism and the market place, for what Yeats called ‘the fool heart of the counting-house’. So what are the paper tigers, and what is the real tiger? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but I take the paper tigers to be embodiments of that materialism, the big corporations, consumerism, the culture of conformity, and the real tiger to be the embodiment of whatever stands against that: independence of spirit, creativity, the natural world. There may seem to be a bit of a contradiction in the poem, in that in line seven we have ‘the harmless paper tiger’ but then in line twelve we are told that it ‘riddles and corrupts the heart’, which doesn’t sound very harmless. But perhaps Hope means that the paper tiger is a purely human construct that has only such power over us as we allow it to have, as compared with the real tiger that exists in its own dangerous, exhilarating reality beyond us.
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.