Upon witnessing a circus passing the house, Dickinson "tasted life," having felt "the red" and heard drums in her mind (L318). The "exotic" animals parading under her window no doubt contributed her enrapture, but where they appear in her corpus, Dickinson grapples with her own and her culture's perceptions of and encounters with alien animals. Popular entertainments like circuses, scientific discourses, and literary representations treated foreign animals as readily apprehended in both senses of the word: at once the physical captives of America's fascination with them and objects of absolute comprehension, despite (or, indeed, because of) their mysterious exotic allure. In three poems featuring either a leopard or a tiger, Dickinson interrogates claims to intimate knowledge of the alien animal and the animal mind, and critiques speakers who presume to know the identity and interiority of "bold" big cats in order to resolve their own identity and ethical relationship to foreignness.


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