W William Blake

The Tyger by William Blake

‘The Tyger’ is a well-known poem by William Blake. It explores the dark and destructive side of God and his creation.

The Tyger by William Blake Visual Representation

William Blake’s literary masterpiece, ‘The Tyger,’ has been scrutinized from literal and metaphorical points of view as he revisits his preferred dilemmas of innocence vs. experience. As for God, his creations are just beautiful and transcend the notions of good-evil. As with his earlier poems, ‘The Tyger’ gives no visible answers except to offer more questions.

“Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” juxtapose opposing sides of human nature, comparing and contrasting innocence with corruption. ‘The Tyger’ is an extension of the same theme, representing two diverse perspectives of the human world. William Blake doesn’t take either side but paints an opposing worldview for his readers.

The Tyger
William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water'd heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
The Tyger by William Blake


Summary

The Tyger‘ by William Blake yields many interpretations. However, its strong, resonating rhyming drives the key concept in the reader’s mind efficiently.

‘The Tyger’ by William Blake slowly and gradually leads to some troubling questions. It, in essence, is a poem where the poet asks the tiger about its creator and his traits. Each stanza poses specific questions with a vague subject in consideration. The poem primarily questions the existence of God and his metaphysical attributes, referring to the tiger’s multiple corporeal characteristics as purely a work of art. The poet wonders how the creator would have felt after completing his creation. Is he also the creator of the lamb?

Meaning

The poem’s title showcases the central figure, a tiger, spelled as “Tyger.” Blake uses the term’s archaic spelling to present the world just after God created it. Through this reference, the poet clarifies that God, with his diplomatic hands, symmetrically framed his creation long before the advent of humankind. This creature portrays the destructive side of God, the creator, as Percy Bysshe Shelley projects in his revolutionary poem ‘Ode to the West Wind.’

Structure and Form

‘The Tyger’ by William Blake consists of six stanzas, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The poem flows with a rhythmic synchronization (AABB) with a regular meter (trochaic tetrameter catalectic). The hammering is relevant to the blacksmith mentioned within the text.

The poem is written in a neat, regular structure with even proportions. The poem slowly points out the final question. The first and last stanzas are similar to the word ‘could’ and ‘dare’ interchanged. The poem, at times, is all about questions to the divine, with at least thirteen different questions asked in the poem’s entirety. The poet seems worried as to how the creator shaped such a magnificent creature, but more so, what/who is the creator himself?

Literary Devices 

Blake makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Tyger.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and allusion. The latter is one of the most important as Blake alludes to the major question at the heart of the poem, if God created the tiger, what kind of creator is he? By referring to the tiger’s fearsome nature throughout the piece, Blake is, in turn, referring to the darker sides of life itself.

Alliteration is a common type of repetition that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “burning bright” in line one and “frame and “fearful” in line 4 of the first stanza. This kind of repetition, in addition to the broader refrain that’s used in ‘The Tyger,’ helps create a memorable rhythm. Enjambment is a formal device that appears when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the second stanza as well as lines three and four of the fourth stanza.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright

In the forests of the night

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry

The initial verse refers to ‘The Tyger,’ questioning its beauty and its creator. As the poem continues on gradually, the speaker clearly makes it a point to discuss God as an entity as opposed to the tiger. William Blake champions metaphors as the first one is ‘burning bright,’ which refers to the tiger’s bright yellow fur as it roams freely in the forest at night.

The central question, as the reader slowly realizes, pertains to the existence of God. Slowly, William Blake attacks the Christian God as he asks whether a divine entity is capable of creating such a mesmerizing creature with perfect definitions and extraordinary beauty. Whether he deems, God wrong for creating such a creature is left open-ended to the reader.

The “fearful symmetry” is a nuanced trait that has dual allusions, one for the tiger and the other referring to a divine deity. The sublime characteristic refers to an entity that is both big and powerful yet remains mysterious. As a result, the poet starts off with poetic allusions, entirely open-ended for the reader to perceive as he pleases. He slowly arrives at the question as to what kind of God God is if he created such a scary creature.

Stanza Two

In what distant deep or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?

The poet’s fascination with the “Tyger” increases as he seems mesmerized by his fiery eyes. He feels that the fire in his eyes came from a distant heavenly body such as hell/ heaven. The poet adds to the fiery image of the tiger by using the metaphor of burning in the first verse. The third line throws the reader off track. William Blake is slowly coming to the point of his argument– God.

The poet presents the main point that the creature reflects its creator. The poet furthermore creates a more supernatural image using the words ‘hand,’ ‘wings,’ and fire, relating to the divine being. These words have been reiterated from above. The term ‘daring’ is introduced, which is repeated in the latter stanza.

Stanza Three

And what shoulder, and what art

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when they heart began to beat,

What dead hand? And what dread feet?

The poet in this stanza, discusses the physical characteristics of the almighty creator, contemplating his various physical features. The lines are lost in translation as the poet wonders in-depth about God’s physical attributes, which could also be an allegory to the tiger’s characteristics.

Stanza Four

What the hammer? What’s the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? What dead grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp

This stanza questions the steps involved in the creation of the all-mighty jungle creature, the tiger. An allegorical reference to a blacksmith is included in these lines. The hypothesis is that some intelligent creator was developing his creation as a blacksmith hammers and forms metal with considerable toil. The stanza is steeped in rhythmic poetry, adding flair and color. As is made apparent, the poet grows more impatient and begins questioning faith overall.

Stanza Five

When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the lamb make thee?

These are the ‘Christian’ verses of the poem. The first line indicates the demotion of God’s arch-angel ‘Satan’ as a sign of rebellion against God’s will. It’s also a veiled reference to the epic poemParadise Lost‘ by John Milton. (Explore more John Milton poems.)

He refers to the all-mighty creator looking with reverence at his finalized creation. The lamb can dually mean ‘the lamb of god’ or lamb from his poem ‘The Lamb.’ The former is an open reference to Jesus Christ (the Lamb of God), sent by God on earth to atone for the sins of humanity.

Stanza Six

Tyger Tyger, burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry

The last stanza is the repetition of the first as a chorus. The word ‘could’ has been replaced by ‘dare’ by the poet. In this section, the poet attempts to question the creator’s ability. The poet tries to challenge God’s abilities in the final lines.

Themes

William Blake engages with the theme that all living entities must reflect their creator in some manner in ‘The Tyger.’ The opening verses slowly lead to the poem’s primary objective: contemplating God in the heavens above. In essence, the tiger is a beautifully enigmatic creature that is at the same time lethal. This also reflects the nature of God.

Religion is another primary theme in this poem. This is seen through Blake’s constant questioning regarding what kind of all-knowing creator could be both violent and so magnificent at the same time?

As the poet contends, the tiger, as a powerfully destructive living entity can be a creation of a purely, artful God. The poet precludes the notion of the tiger’s creation in any way accidental or haphazard. He feels that this tiger is allotted immense physical strength and the ability to wield its command over weaker animals.

The final allusion to the lamb can connote his reference to the poem, ‘The Lamb,’ as he compares and contrasts the timid living animal to that of a tiger. God created the tiger as a dominant creature, while the lamb is simply a weakling compared to the tiger.

On the whole, ‘The Tyger’ consists of unanswered questions, the poet leaves his readers pondering the will of the creator, his limitless power, and feeling awe towards God’s creation. In conclusion, the poet ends his poem with perspectives of innocence and experience, both subjects of great interest to him.

Symbolism

This poem is full of symbols that are similar to the theme of his “Songs of Experience.” Firstly, the tiger is a symbol of God’s destructive side. It projects how God has balanced his creation by making a fierce creature like a tiger. It implicitly refers to another fact that he is both the perisher and the protector. Readers can find the symbols of experience in the following words, “night”, “fire”, “hammer”, “chain”, “furnace”, “anvil”, etc. The symbolic use of the words is consonant with the overall theme of Blake’s poem. It sets the tone and mood of the work.

Historical Context

After publishing “Songs of Innocence,” “Songs of Experience” was published in 1794. The poet aimed to demonstrate the contrarian nature of the soul and human thought. The poem ‘The Tyger’ was published in his collection of poems known as Songs of Experience. It became an instant literary classic amongst all-time classic poems of the modern era.

“Songs of Experience” was written in opposition to “Songs of Innocence,” key components in Blake’s thought process, being a radical thinker of his time. ‘The Tyger’ was the pinnacle of heresy for William Blake, pitching humans bearing the onus for their actions.

FAQs

How is ‘The Lamb’ similar to ‘The Tyger’?

‘The Tyger’ is a sister poem to ‘The Lamb.’ The lamb and tiger are both God’s creations. Blake presents the former as the innocent side of God and the latter as God’s destructive side. Blake penned these poems to create a balanced picture of the world.

Why is “Tiger” spelled “Tyger” in the poem?

The “Tyger” is an obsolete and archaic spelling of tiger. Blake chooses this word to add a layer of exotic and archaic flavor to his poem. By selecting this spelling, he tries to refer to the world in its earlier stage.

Who is the speaker in ‘The Tyger’?

This poem is written from the third-person point of view. It seems that the omniscient narrator of this piece is an awe-struck human being who gives voice to Blake’s inexpressible feelings.

What’s the central image of ‘The Tyger’?

The central image of this piece is that of a tiger roaming steadily and silently in the dark forests of the night. It remains constant throughout the poem.

Is ‘The Tyger’ a modern poem?

This poem was published in 1794 and it rose to notoriety in the Romantic era. It is both a poem of the romantic age and modern age.

What type of poem is ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake?

It is a Romantic poem that has a highly structured rhyme scheme and meter. Blake uses rhymig couplets and groups them into quatrains.

How does ‘The Tyger’ challenge common assumptions of the time about God and Christianity?

Blake’s poem challenges the common assumptions of the contemporary period regarding God and Christianity. During that time, God was depicted as a kind and meek being who is benevolent to his creation. Blake challenged this conception and portrayed him as a being who has two sides. He is both the protector and the perisher.

What is “fearful symmetry” in ‘The Tyger’?

This phrase refers to the symmetrical physical structure of a tiger. Its body is designed in a manner that presents it as a ferocious creature. From the eyes to the paws, it is a creature born to feed on other creatures. The speaker is afraid by looking at this symmetry in the tiger.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘The Tyger’ should also consider reading some of William Blake’s best-known poems. For example:

  • ‘The Lamb’ – This poem is commonly considered the companion piece to ‘The Tyger.’ It is a warm and loving poem in which the poet describes the kind nature of the lamb while alluding to Christ.
  • ‘A Poison Tree’ – In this poem, Blake considers anger and how one might confront it.
  • ‘The Sick Rose’ – This poem is a well-known piece that uses metaphors and allusions to speak about a woman’s virginity.
  • ‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence’ – This poem is a testimony to Blake’s purpose in writing poetry and his belief in simple rural life. Read more William Blake’s poems.

You can also read about the best-known poems about God and these incredible poems on darkness.

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The Tyger by William Blake Visual Representation
Omer Asad Poetry Expert
About
Omer joined the Poem Analysis team back in November 2015. He has a keen eye for poetry and enjoys analysing them, providing his intereptation of poems from the past and present.
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