The Tyger

The Tyger

by William Blake

The Tyger Poem Summary and Analysis

In Short

  • One of William Blake’s most anthologized poems, “The Tyger” questions the God’s creation.
  • The speaker asks whether the same God who created the meek lamb created the fearsome tiger too. Why did he allow evil to exist?
  • Blake’s poem also expresses wonder at the fearsome beauty and power of the tiger, as well as at the power of God.

The Tyger – Explanation

Stanza – 1

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,

The poem “The Tyger” begins with the speaker expressing his awe on seeing the tiger. Here Blake’s spelling of ‘Tyger’ seems to emphasize the symbolic quality of the animal. He uses ‘tyger’ instead of tiger maybe to refer to any kind of wild, ferocious cat.

The speaker says that the tiger is burning bright in the forests of the night. The phrase ‘burning bright’ may have several different meanings. Firstly, we may think of the two burning eyes of the tiger in the darkness. Secondly, the phrase itself makes the whole tiger a symbol of burning qualities – wrath, passion and ardour. Again, it may reflect the tiger’s yellow colour with black stripes as it roams freely in the night forest.

What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Seeing the beautiful tiger lurking in the nocturnal forest, the speaker wonders what immortal hand or eye has framed the tiger’s body. The phrase “fearful symmetry” refers to perfectly-proportioned shape or form of the tiger which has endowed it with a fearful look.

The concept of symmetry would not normally be frightening. When Blake adds the adjective ‘fearful’ to symmetry, he suggests something that doesn’t fit and that can’t be explained. In other words, he questions the creation of evil by God when God is supposed to create only beauty and perfection.

Stanza – 2

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

The speaker again concentrates on the tiger’s eyes. He says that when those eyes spark, it looks like fire raging within them. He wonders from which distance the fire has been brought for the eyes of the tiger. The fire has been brought either from the skies or from the depth of oceans. It means it has come either from heaven or from hell. Actually, it is not an ordinary fire of the world. It is a kind of divine one which is needed for the tiger’s eyes to make it so fierce.

On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

The speaker queries who designed the dreadful tiger. He wonders which were those wings that took him to those distant areas. Here, the poet depicts the creator as a majestic human figure hovering in the air.

The speaker also wonders which hands dares to catch that divine fire. ‘Seize the fire’ presumably refers to the legend of Prometheus who stole the fire from heaven for the use of mankind. So, in the second stanza, the speaker enquires in what oceans beneath or skies above, the creator soared to obtain the fire needed for the tiger’s eyes, and whose hand dared to seize that dangerous fire.

Stanza – 3

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

This stanza continues in different terms the same question – Who/What created the tiger? Seeing the dreadful yet well-proportioned body of the tiger, the speaker wonders at the courage, strength and skill of the creator who fashioned the tiger. Here, ‘shoulder’ roughly means what kind of bodily strength could create the tiger. And ‘art’ refers to the skill that could put the tiger all together.

The speaker ponders on what efforts or skills are required to form the muscles (sinews) of the tiger’s heart. Why heart? Maybe the speaker believes that the strong passion and vigour of the tiger is the result of a strong muscular heart inside.

So, our speaker feels that the act of creation is certainly a piece of manual labour on the part of the creator. He thus praises the tiger’s muscular strength as well as the amazing power of the creator.

And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

After the tiger’s heart was created, it began to beat. The speaker is amazed by the thought that how powerful the creator’s hand and feet are, which made him stand in front of the tiger when its heart started to beat. He is talking about the creator’s daring nature. He wonders how powerful the maker’s hands and feet would have to be in order to not be intimidated by the living beast.

Stanza – 4

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

In this fourth stanza of the poem “The Tyger”, the speaker asks about the process involved in the creation of the tiger. He wonders what hammer, chain, furnace and anvil the creator has used to create the brain of the tiger. The usage of these tools to create the tiger implies that the task of creation is just like the manual work of a blacksmith.

The speaker also thinks it must have been a terrible moment when the creator dared to hold (clasp) the tiger’s brain (its deadly terrors) in the grasp of His powerful fist.

Stanza – 5

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?

This has a reference to a Biblical incident as mentioned in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. The ‘stars’ here refers to Satan and his followers who finally acknowledged their defeat, with tears of despair and distress, at the hand of Christ. It is as if the stars were so much frightened at the sight of the tiger that they accepted their defeat by throwing down their weapons (spears) and the heaven became wet with their tears. The speaker’s question now is whether the creator smiled with satisfaction to see the tiger become too much frightening for the Satanic forces.

The speaker then comes out with the most important question in the poem wondering if the same creator who made the Lamb made the tiger too. This refers back to Blake’s another poem “The Lamb” in “Songs of Innocence”. The Lamb is seen as a meek innocent animal and it is another name of Christ. How could the same creator, who created such a vulnerable, gentle creature like the lamb, also create a ferocious dreadful animal like the tiger? The speaker looks surprised.

This has been one of religion’s most difficult questions and this poem’s main concern. Maybe in His great wisdom, God saw a place for the tiger in the bigger scheme of things.

Stanza – 6

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

The last stanza in “The Tyger” has been a mere repetition of the first stanza with only a slight change. In the last line, we now have the word ‘dare’ instead of ‘could’. So, the speaker earlier questioned the ability of the creator to create the tiger, but now he wonders about the courage it takes to do that. The poet wonders whether God, who created so much good, could also have created a creature of such deadly power as a tiger.

The Tyger – Into Details

Publication

William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” was first published in 1794 in “Songs of Experience”. It was written as a counterpart to his earlier poem “The Lamb” published in 1789 in “Songs of Innocence”. Blake, however, combined his works in 1794 under the title “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” with a subtitle “Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul”.

Background/Context

Blake was a mystic and a visionary, and highly critical of the English church. He explored with the contrasting themes like good and evil, heaven and hell and knowledge and innocence. His poem “The Tyger” is meant to be read in comparison and contrast to his other poem “The Lamb”.

Blake believed that a person had to pass through an innocent state of being, like that of the lamb, and also absorb the contrasting conditions of experience, like those of the tiger, in order to reach a higher level of consciousness. Blake’s vision of a creative force in the universe making a balance of innocence and experience is at the heart of this poem.

Blake was also a wide reader of religious scholarship which played a formative role in his poetry. In this poem he uses a reference from Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Moreover, he had seen the industrial revolution at his early age, and thus, we find a reference to a loud, fiery metalwork shop in this poem. This poem may even be implying that evil comes from industry.

Setting

The setting of the poem is not something specific. At first, we find the tiger in its nocturnal habitat – the dark forest and jungle. Then the speaker makes us imagine where the tiger might be created. Sometimes it takes us to heaven, relating to the war between God and the Satanic forces. Sometimes it takes us to an industrial workshop with the reference of many tools used in the industry. Actually, the poem “The Tyger” takes the reader on a journey through the worlds.

Title

The title of the poem “The Tyger” is rather straightforward to inform us that the poem is about a tiger. The poem’s main concern has been the fearsome beauty and strength of a tiger and its creation by God.

But this tiger is symbolic too. It represents a scary and fierce force within the existence. It is in sharp contrast to the meek and innocent nature of the lamb presented in Blake’s other poem “The Lamb”. The poet expresses his doubt whether the same creator, who made the lamb, brought this tiger in existence? Thus, the poet uses the tiger to ask his question “Why did God allow evil to exist?” The unusual spelling in the word ‘Tyger’ is complementary to this symbolic meaning.

Form and Language

One of the most famous poems of William Blake, “The Tyger” consists of six quatrains (a group or stanza of four-lines). Another important aspect about the poem’s form is that it consists of a series of unanswered questions, which makes the poem more unique.

The language of the poem has its own visual representation. Blake’s simplicity in language and construction contradicts the complexity of his ideas. What strikes us most about the poem is its nursery-rhyme appearance holding such wealth of meaning. Blake produces superb lyric while symbolism and metaphor adds the cutting edge.

Meter and Rhyme

“The Tyger” is written loosely in trochaic meter (stressed-unstressed) to give the poem a children’s rhyme appearance. There is a catalectic ending (extra stressed syllable at the end) to most of the lines. Again, lines 4, 10, 11, 18 and 24 fit an iambic (unstressed-stressed) pattern.

Tyger | Tyger, | burning | bright

(trochaic catalectic meter)

And when | thy heart | began | to beat,

(iambic tetrameter)

As for the rhyme scheme, every stanza with its rhymed couplets has an AABB scheme.

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

The Tyger – Themes

Existence of Evil

Existence of Evil has been the main theme of Blake’s poem “The Tyger”. The poem is meant to be read in comparison and contrast to his poem “The Lamb”. While the lamb symbolizes gentleness, tenderness and innocence, the tiger represents aggressive and fierce nature. These are two contrary states of human soul.

The tiger seems to be designed to kill and inflict pain. It behaves in a way that seems counter to God’s laws and ethics. Thus, the tiger represents evil. The poet here conveys his surprise that the same creator who created the meek lamb could also create the fearsome tiger. It is actually allowing evil to exist in God’s world. Blake asks why god allowed evil to exist at all when he was supposed to create a world which is beautiful and perfect.

The Tyger – Symbols

The Tyger

As already noted in the “Title” section of this guide, the tiger is a symbol in this poem. It represents aggressiveness, violence and evil forces. The poet uses tiger as a symbol of evil to ask his question “Why did God allow evil to exist?”

The poem is complimentary to Blake’s another poem “The Lamb” in which he shows the meek and mild nature of the lamb as well as of God. In “The Tyger”, thus, the poet wonders whether the same creator who created the gentle lamb created the fearsome violent tiger too.

The Tyger – Literary Devices

End-Stopped Line

An end-stopped line is a line of verse that ends with a punctuation. Most of the lines in the poem are end-stopped lines.

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?

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

What immortal hand or eye (‘o’ sound)

Burnt the fire of thine eyes? (‘i’ sound)

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in neighbouring words.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

(‘t’, ‘g’, ‘r’ and ‘b’ sounds)

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

(‘f’, ‘r’ and ‘m’ sounds)

Alliteration

Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

(‘t’ and ‘b’ sounds only)

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

(‘f’ sound only)

Apostrophe

An apostrophe in literature is an exclamatory address to a thing which is personified, or to a person who is dead or absent.

The speaker’s address to the tiger using its name and also pronouns like ‘thy’ (your) in the poem is an instance of apostrophe.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Allusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to something of historical, cultural, political or literary importance.

In the fifth stanza of “The Tyger” there is an allusion to the war between God and the Satanic forces as described in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. There is also a reference to Blake’s other poem “The Lamb” in line 20.

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?

Refrain

In poetry, a refrain is a line or phrase that is repeated within the lines or stanzas of the poem itself.

The first stanza of the poem is repeated as the last stanza with only a slight change. This is an example of refrain.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,

Anaphora

It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. For example –

Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Personification

Personification is the attribution of human qualities to non-human thing.

In “The Tyger”, the poet presents the creator (God) as a human being having hands, feet, eyes etc. like human beings. He also has abstract qualities like courage, satisfaction etc.

What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Again, in the fifth stanza, the stars are personified when they throw their spears and water the heaven with their tears.

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,

Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is in the form of a question but now meant for an answer. It is used rather to highlight a point.

On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

Metaphor

A metaphor is an indirect or implied comparison where there is a point of similarity.

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

In the above line, the passion and brightness of the tiger’s eyes is compared to the warmth and brightness of fire.

Imagery

Imagery is a description of things that can be perceived by the five senses.

For example, we find visual imageries (that we can almost see) in the following lines –

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,

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