William Blake (1757-1827)

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, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and 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 starts 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?

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

    Blake is one of my favorite poets. And after reading "The Tyger" you can see why! What a totally powerful, passionate poem. Its companion piece, "The Lamb" is the exact opposite - gentle and mild. Is this my favorite of all his works? Hmm, let me think... okay, I think it ties with "Auguries of Innocence" - I love both!

1st stanza: The tiger, symbol of power and ferocity, is pictured against a dark background, and it stands out starkly against it - "burning bright". The tiger is beautiful, but it is a fear-inspiring kind of beauty.

2nd stanza: Who dares to seize the fire and put it in the tiger's eyes? This may refer to the Promethean myth in which the Greek god Prometheus steals fire from Mount Olympus and gives it to mankind. He puts the flame in a hollow reed or something, I can't remember, but he's punished horribly for it. He's chained to a rock and a vulture comes every day to devour his heart (or is it liver?) but at night it grows back and he has to suffer the same ordeal over and over again for millenia until Herakles comes to free him.

3rd stanza: The author wonders at the strength and skill of the shaper of the tiger's ferocious heart. I think the last line probably refers to the limbs of the tiger, but it could also mean the hand of God himself.

4th stanza: Image of God as the divine blacksmith. Another possible reference to Greek myth, this time of the artificer god, Hephaestus or Vulcan.

5th stanza: The "stars" are the angels of God. The third and fourth lines of this stanza probably contain the whole point of the poem. Did God, who made the gentle lamb, also made the tiger? If God is good and benevolent, how can he create violence and cruelty and allow these elements to exist?

6th stanza: An exact replica of the first stanza, except for the word "Could" which is replaced by "Dare". The question is asked in the first verse, "How does God create something as beautiful and violent as the tiger?" In the last verse, Blake asks, "Why?"

    All right, that was what I understood of the poem. But I don't get it - how can the lamb and the tiger symbolize good and evil? I don't think the tiger (and any other predator for that matter) kills because it is evil, does it? It kills to survive, because it is in its nature. Is Blake saying that is it in the nature of some people to be evil? That there is a predestined path of evil that people follow? Or doesn't the question of evil figure into it at all?

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