The Tyger: Poem by William Blake - Summary and Analysis

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The Tiger

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forest 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 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?

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

Summary and Analysis


      'The Tyger' is a contrast to the lamb of Songs of Innocence and it is one of the most famous poems of William Blake. The wonder of the poet is conveyed by the short and successive questions. Some of these questions are left incomplete, as if the poet's awe and admiration were too great to permit him to complete them. The terror the beast produces is evoked through the repetition of such words as fearful. 'dare', 'dread', 'terror'. The poet wonders how God dared to create such a beast. The tiger is Blake's symbol of 'abundant life' which Jesus Christ came to bring into the world. The tiger is also Blake's symbol of regeneration and enerry.

'The Tyger' deals with the colossal problem, of evil. But in Blake, evil does not exist as an abstract quality. Instead, the evil is embodied in the wrath of God.
The Tyger

      Another interpretation is that Christ is symbolised by both tiger and lamb. As we have seen in the series of Songs of Experience Blake holds that innocence uncoupled with experience is incomplete. He says: "The wrath of lion is the wisdom of God". C.M. Bowra has pointed out: "The wrath which Blake found in Christ, his symbol of the divine spirit which will not tolerate restrictions but asserts itself against established rules, was the means by which he hoped to unite innocent and experience in some tremendous synthesis. In this poem itself we can see the reference both to tiger and lamb. Both of these creatures are two aspects of the same soul and soul is none but God. Therefore, in the person of Christ an equipoise is achieved between the meekness, simplicity, innocence, and his wrath and harsher side. Blake is not the only poet who has had a vision of the several faces of Christ. Later G.M. Hopkins in his 'Deutschland' has pictured Christ as a torturer and terrorist.

      The elegance of the tiger occasions a strange thought in the poet that it is not created in this world but somewhere in the skies or in the 'distant deeps'. The poet wonders how the Creator dared to fetch the fire for the eyes of the tiger. The poet wants to know the artistic formula by which the robust hands gave birth to such an unearthly creature as the tiger. He wonders at the handiwork of God who, like a blacksmith, set to work on his most amazing creation. The muscles of the tiger's heart and the deadly terror of the tiger's brain make the poet wonder at the strength and audacity of the Almighty who created it. Naturally he concludes that the apparatus required to frame the tiger must have been a prodigious one. Tne creator must have possessed unlimited skill and talent to create such an exquisite being. The anvil, the furnace, the chains and the hammer must have all been wonderful. Even the stars, the poet thinks, the first of God's creations, were over taken by grief and horror when they behold the new creature of God's creation. They drenched heaven with their tears and threw down their spears in astonishment. After his act of creation the creator might have smiled at his handiwork - implying that the cruel beast had satisfied the cruel aspect of God, or hinting a the intricacy of the plans by which he wants to fill earth with diversities. The poet finds it almost unbelievable that God who created the lamb also created the tiger.

Creation and the Creator:

      In the poem The Tyger a description of process of creation is given, but no clarification is given about who the creator is. In the first stanza the creator is described as having wings by which he may have reached the skies to bring the fire for the lustre of the wild beast. The creation of the tiger is conveyed in words and phrases which, though meaningful in their totality, do not yield any explicit elucidation of the creator. We sense the strong shoulders thrusting forward in the process of forging the body of the carnivore. The dexterity of the strokes is further conveyed in the 'dread hand' which is gifted with unprecedented craftsmanship. If the 'dread feet' and 'drcad hand' are applied to those of the busily engaged creator we can elicit the fact that those limbs are busy in working diligently. At the moment of achieving the perfection of his sublime creation the poem grows tense, the questions are broken in midway and the speaker's hindered gasps let out incomplete phrases of exclamation.

A Sublime Creation:

      The poet is struck with surprise and awe to behold the wild animal's majestic elegance and grandeur. Its symmetry is fearful and the glow of, its eyes is unearthly. When, the process of creation is over, "a terrible beauty is born." The strength of the animal and its wildness are its peculiar features. The tiger beyond its superficial beauty, is a prototype of God whose harsher aspect is present in the wildness of the creature. It is a contrast and counterpart to the innocence of the lamb. The poet wonders:

"Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"

      What holds our attention is not merely the brute's beauty but the mystery and purpose behind its creation.

The Poem is Blake's Masterpiece:

      'The Tyger' displays the poet's excellence in craftsmanship and descriptive skill. In the forest of experience Blake finds the bright-eyed tiger which appears to involve all the cosmic forces. The tiger has made its appearances in the Prophetic books of Blake. The poet's reliance in the cosmic and preternatural forces is increasingly exemplified and asserted when he describes the creation and the creator of the tiger. The creator is a supernatural being and not necessarily the Christian God. The creation, according to another elucidation takes place in an extraordinary cosmic commotion. When the constellations turn round in their course there is a move from light to darkness. The pattern and method of asking questions here are quite different from those employed in The Lamb. In 'The Tyger' the questions are put in a terrified and awe-inspired tone.

      It is also held that 'The Tyger' deals with the colossal problem, of evil. But in Blake, evil does not exist as an abstract quality. Instead, the evil is embodied in the wrath of God. Christ, like all other Gods, has a dual duty. He punishes the Sinners and offenders and loves the followers. Thus Christ or God becomes the God of both love and unkindness. At the close Blake gives utterance for this dual responsibility of God when he writes:

"Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" 
      The fire is a popular symbol of wrath. Milton and Spenser have also described wrath as fire. But we are not to misapprehend Blake's use of wrath as one of the 'deadly sins' depicted by the miracle and morality plays. Blake finds virtue in wrath and what he describes in the righteous indignation or the wrath of a pious soul. In addition to this, if we also construe the symbolic meaning of the forest, then we can substantiate the meaning of the lines:

"Tyger Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night."


      Blake intends to suggest that the great purpose of wrath is to consume error, to annihilate those stubborn beliefs which cannot be removed by the tame "horses of instruction". It is typical of Blake to ask questions when he is overpowered by wonder and amazement and it is effective especially in the case of this poem where it results in an intense improvisation. The phrase 'fearful symmetry' - whatever is possible in symbolic suggestions is clearly the initial puzzle the 'symmetry' implies an ordering hand or intelligence, the fearful throws doubt about the benevolence of the creator. The 'forests of the night' is the darkness out of which the tiger looms brilliant by contrast; they also embody the doubt or confusion that surrounds the origins of the tiger. In the case of the lamb the creator "is meek and he is mild". "He became a little child". In the case of tiger the creator is again like what he creates. The form that must be supplied Him is now that of the Promethean Smith working violently at the forge. The tiger is an image of the Creator; its dreadly terror must be His.

The Crux of the Poem:

      The crux of the poem can be sought in the lines When the stars threw down their spears.....Did he who made the Lamb make thee? In explaining these lines we waver in interpreting the drops of tears that water the heaven as the outcome of the rage of the defeated rebelling angels or as tears of mercy. If this wrath is one of the two aspects of God, the tiger's cruelty and wildness is only superficially fearful. It can otherwise be construed as a prophetic rage. But after all rath and mercy unite at the same point where the ultimate reality of God is felt. There are two means for the achievement of the goal, the first being through the 'innocence' of the lamb and the other being through the 'experience' of the tiger. The close of the poem gives us the clue the daring of the creator whether God or man is the cleansing wrath of the tiger.

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