The Tyger (from Songs of Experience)

by Richard on November 28, 2007

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 sieze 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 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?

William Blake, 1794

Posted in celebration of the poet’s birthday. Look, I know I’m a philistine who doesn’t do poetry. But I like this one.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1

chris 11.28.07 at 8:34 pm

beuatiful poem from myall time favourite poet

2

DH 11.28.07 at 8:59 pm

Wow, Richard this is a very beautiful poem. Could you give me insight into the meaning of this poem? I’m very interested because the amber of this poem is so beautiful.

3

Kim 11.28.07 at 10:36 pm

Hi DH,

I trust Richard won’t mind me putting my oar in here. Blake and I go back a long way. I can remembering discovering him at university - his poetry, a revelation; his person - what a dude!

The poem represents Blake at his scintillating best. Its meaning? Forget it. It is so overdetermined, and intertextually related to the rest of Blake’s work, that you’d need a library to unpack it. In any case, a poem’s meaning is what it says. Just let the imagery and rhetoric weave their magic spell.

Peter Ackroyd observes: “A whole cluster of significant associations can be seen to form around Blake’s conception of the wild beast, so haunting in its imagery and so distrubing in its invocation of both rage and celebration. The stars of the heaven and the words of the Bible, the destructive instinct of natural creation and the wrath of God, the forces of social revolution and the images of ancient cults, are here forged together with tools that Blake depicts in the sixth plate of Jerusalem [Blake was a brilliant engraver].”

A suggestive juxtaposition is Blakes’s poem “The Lamb”:

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, & bid thee feed
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, wooly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

“The Tyger” comes from Songs of Experience, “The Lamb” from the accompanying Songs of Innocence. The Tyger and the Lamb - hmmm.

Blake was really into “contraries”: “Without Contraries there is no progression”. And he sided with the unconventional one of the usual pairs (Blake was nothing if not unconventional!): so body over soul (actually, in good Hebraic fashion, he said that “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul”), energy over reason - and hell over heaven (but, of course, not your conventional hell). Check out his utterly arresting Proverbs from Hell. Here are a few, for tasters:

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time. [Incarnation in an aphorism.]
Expect poison from standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
The weak in courage is strong in cunning. [Politics in an aphorism.]
The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest. [Christian ethics in an aphorism.]

Sorry to go on so long, but Blake does that to me. Anyway, I hope that’s helpful. Even more, I hope it might get you to read some Blake.

4

Beth 11.28.07 at 11:55 pm

May I add my favourite? “Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.”

5

DH 11.29.07 at 5:27 pm

Wow Kim, I really appreciate your insight onto the meaning of this poem. All of this talk of “Lamb” kind of reminds me of the discussion of “Lamb of God” and “Lion of Judah”. Okay “Tyger of Judah” “Lion of Judah” the meaning is the same. :) Thought you would get a “kick” out of that. :) Although my understanding of Lamb of God and Lion of Judah is that God is both at the same time and both for God’s perfect love relation to help man come to God. Sometimes the way of a Lamb and sometimes the way of the Lion depending on how hard a person’s heart is toward Him but both for our own ultimate benefit.

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