Sunday, March 4, 2012

"The Tyger" by 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?
          This poem is particularly interesting because of its meter. William Blake wrote "The Tyger" in trochaic tetrameter, meaning that each line has approximately four trochees (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable). Most poems in English are written in iambic pentameter (each line has approximately five iambs, or an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). Blake used trochaic tetrameter to embody the physical aspects of the poem into its rhythm. For instance, trochees produce an almost pounding sound when spoken. By repeating them over and over, Blake creates a rhythmic boom which can embody the powerful tiger of which he is writing, and also the hammering of the blacksmith to whom he compares its creator.
          Aside from its meter, "The Tyger" is a wonderful poem due to the questions which Blake so effortlessly raises. In the third stanza, he asks "what shoulder, & what art,/ Could twist the sinews of thy heart?" obviously referring to the God which made the tiger. Blake is in complete shock that any being could possibly create a creature so terrible, and how that same being could also make a creature as delicate as the lamb ("Did he who made the Lamb make thee?")
          As with many of his poems, Blake also created a relief etching of "The Tyger," as it appeared in his popular work Songs of Innocence and Experience. He wrote the poems and drew illustrations on copper plates with inks which could not be destroyed by acid, and then later etched the plates in the liquid. This left only the letters and images on the surface, thus creating his "etching."
          Below is Blake's etching of "The Tyger."


  1. really helpful! I'm trying to explain how I interpreted the poem like this for a class project

  2. It would be a mistake to take the comparison between the Tyger and the Lamb literally: these questions of a "creator" suggest the Biblical allusion of the Lamb as a symbol for Jesus, in which case the rhetorical question has deeper connotations: not, "Could God really have made two such disparate (earhtly) creatures?" but instead a sort of sly suggestion that the Tyger is a symbol of Lucifer, which transforms the question into something like: "How could Jesus and Lucifer be from the same Creator?". Even the iconic line "what the hand dare seize the fire?" evokes the hubris of the Fall as imagined in Milton's Paradise Lost. The refrain "burning bright/In the forests of the night" could easily be construed to be a play on the translation of Lucifer as "morning star", with forests of the night as a metaphor for the celestial. Interestingly, both Lucifer and Jesus are referred to as the "Morning Star" in different portions of the Bible, adding even more layers to the comparison between the Lamb and the Tyger.