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 is the case with his earlier poems, ‘The Tyger’ gives no visible answers except offering 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. He also seems opposed to 3-fold controlling forces of religion, despotic rule, and sexual repression.
Explore The Tyger
‘The Tyger’ by William Blake slowly and gradually leads to asking some troubling questions. It, in essence, is a poem where the poet asks the tiger about its creator and his traits. Each stanza poses certain questions with a vague subject (Tyger) in consideration. The poem largely questions the existence of god and its 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?
The title of the poem showcases the central figure which is a tiger, spelled as “Tyger”. Blake uses the archaic spelling of the term for presenting the world just after God created it. There is an exotic flavor in its name and the smell of oldness. Through this reference, the poet makes it clear that God, with his judicious hands, symmetrically framed his creation long before the advent of humankind. This creature portrays the destructive side of God, the creator, as P.B. Shelley projects in his revolutionary poem ‘Ode to the West Wind’.
Structure and Form
‘The Tyger’ by William Blake consists of 6-stanzas, with each stanza consisting of 4-lines each. The poem flows with a rhythmic synchronization (AABB) with a regular meter (trochaic tetrameter catalectic). The hammering is relevant to the blacksmith herein. It has been written in a neat, regular structure with neat proportions. The poem slowly points out the final question therein. 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 13-different questions asked in the poem’s entirety. The poet seems worried as to how the creator shaped up such a magnificent creature, but more so, how is the creator himself?
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.
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,’ imploring about its beauty and creator. As the poem leads on gradually, the poem 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 night.
The central question, as the reader slowly realizes, pertains 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 perfection definitions and extraordinaire beauty. Whether he deems, God impotent of creating such a four-legged 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 divine deity. As apparent, the sublime characteristic refers to an entity extremely big and powerful yet 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 how God would be when he hath created such a scary creature walking freely in the jungle.
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 “Tyger” ever increases as he seems mesmerized with 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 from 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 resonates with the point that the creature reflects its creator. The poet furthermore creates a more supernatural image using the words of ‘hand,’ ‘wings,’ and fire, relating to the divine being. These words have been reiterated from above. The term ‘daring’ is introduced, which is reverberated in the latter stanza.
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.
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, he hypothesizes some intelligent creator developing his creation akin to a blacksmith as he cuts, hammers and forms metal after considerable toil. The stanza is steeped in rhythmic poetry, adding flair and color. As apparent, the poet is getting impatient and embarks on questioning the faith and its overalls.
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 clearly 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 poem ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton. (Explore more John Milton poems.)
He refers to the all-mighty creator looking with reverence at his finalized creation. This stanza is purely Christian by all means. 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 mankind.
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. Albeit, the word ‘could’ has been replaced by ‘dare’ by the poet. The poet in this section attempts to question the creator’s ability. The poet embarks on challenging the ability of his creator to creating this mighty creature.
William Blake engages with the theme that all living entities must reflect their creator in some mannerism 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 yet lethal at the same time. This also reflects the nature of God as he contemplates that a God could be just as loving and just as lethal when needed be.
Religion is one of the primary themes of the poem. As a result, what kind of being can be both violent and so magnificent simultaneously? The poem explores the moral dilemma of the poet largely concerned with the metaphysical entity. It becomes a symbolic allegory to God in hindsight.
As the poet contends, that such 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 as it can 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 awe of his creation, a three-fold subject. In conclusion, the poet ends his poem with perspectives of innocence and experience, both a subject of great interest to him.
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.
After publishing “Songs of Innocence”, “Songs of Experience” was published in 1794. The aim of the poet was 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.
‘The Tyger’ is a sister poem of ‘The Lamb’. The lamb and tiger, both are the creations of God. Blake presents the former as the innocent side of God and the latter as God’s destructive side. So, to create a balanced picture of the world Blake penned down these poems.
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 choosing this spelling, he tries to refer to the world in its earlier stage.
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.
This poem was published in 1794 and it rose to notoriety in the romantic era. So, it is a poem of the romantic age and a modern poem.
It is a romantic poem that has a highly structured rhyme scheme and meter. Blake uses the rhyming couplets and groups them in quatrains. Besides, ‘The Tyger’ is an introspective piece on God’s fearful creature, the tiger.
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.
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.
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 to be 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 another quite well-known piece that uses metaphors and allusions to speak on a woman’s virginity.
- ‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence’ – This poem stands as a testimony to Blake’s purpose of writing poetry and his belief in simple rural life. Read more William Blake poems.