Six-Year-Old Nael’s Poem: ‘The Tiger’

Creative commons photo.

About four years ago, then six-year-old Nael, who was in the first grade, wrote a poem that’s become something of a meme on Twitter. If you’re a frequent Twitter user like me, you’ve probably seen this poem before. I want to step back and get away from the meme aspect, and look at it with fresh eyes. Here is the poem:

The Tiger

The tiger
He destroyed his cage
Yes
YES
The tiger is out

This 12-word, five-line poem was originally published in, ‘They’re Singing a Song in Their Rocket,” for 826DC. The nonprofit organization is “dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write,” according to their website.

In short order, the poem went viral, and a lot of people like to say it’s the best poem ever written, or at least, the best poem of the 21st century, or at least, the best poem of the 2010s. I would agree with the latter. Genuinely.

I’m of two minds here. I don’t want to overthink a six-year-old’s poem, but what is poem analysis (or any analysis) without overthinking? And also, some might swing too far the other way by automatically dismissing something written by a child. I wouldn’t. A child has an an experience and a set of eyes that they see the world, and in that moment, this is the poem that spoke to Nael.

“We recognize that young people have important, worthy and complex stories to tell, and we want to send the message to them that their voices are as important as the authors you might see on a bookshelf at Politics and Prose,” Zachary Clark, executive director for 826DC, said.

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Amen to that sentiment. We should take children seriously. I know we to be ironic by boosting this poem or look at any artwork by children as “cute” or whatever other patronizing notion, but artwork that makes us feel something, as any good artwork ought to do, doesn’t have an age restriction on it. It’s the reason why we love videos of children singing their hearts out on American Idol or America’s Got Talent. Talent is talent.

With all that preamble out of the way, perhaps what I most marvel at about this poem from a six-year-old before I get into anything else is the use of the all-caps: “YES.” It creates a nice cadence for only five-lines and it matches the theme of the tiger coming out of its cage. There’s a real sense of pent-up euphoria there.

I’m also just a sucker for themes about liberation and freedom. This poem certainly exemplifies that. A tiger is in its cage, he destroyed the cage, and now is out. That can be a literal description or a metaphorical. Those in oppressed countries or circumstances, both macro and micro, yearning to be freeing, and yearning to destroy their own cages, whatever they may be. There’s also a throughline there: Tiger or human, all beings on earth have an innate repulsion to being caged. The tiger will pace. The human will pace. Being caged is not meant to be a condition of being. But that’s a topic for greater depth at a different time.

The other thing I admire about this poem, and perhaps it’s something only a six-year-could capture (and I mean this as a compliment) is the simplicity of the poem. Again, 12 words, five lines, and there’s not a wasted word here. It’s not hard to imagine someone else writing the next part, i.e., what happens when the tiger gets out of the cage or adding descriptions of breaking the cage. But we don’t need to know any of that. Only that the tiger was in the cage and now the tiger is out.

Yes. YES.

What do you think of this poem and the larger discussion I delve into regarding children and how to view their artwork and talent?

2 thoughts

  1. I had never heard of this poem before, so thank you for sharing! I love how simple and expressive it is all at once. As you said, it is not over-thought, and the way it ends with the line “The tiger is out” is so satisfying in how clear and confident it is stated. I agree that children can create amazing art. They have open minds, creative perspectives, and tend to not doubt themselves as much as adults tend to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well-said, Tirza! And thank you for commenting. Interesting point about doubt — somewhere along the way, adults can lose that sense of being unencumbered, and almost self-cage ourselves for a variety of reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

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