"The Tyger" is a poem by the English poet William Blake published in 1794 as part of the Songs of Experience collection. Literary critic Alfred Kazin calls it "the most famous of his poems," and The Cambridge Companion to William Blake says it is "the most anthologized poem in English." It is one of Blake's most reinterpreted and arranged works.
The Songs of Experience was published in 1794 as a follow up to Blake's 1789 Songs of Innocence. The two books were published together under the merged title Songs of Innocence and Experience, showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul: the author and printer, W. Blake featuring 54 plates. The illustrations are arranged differently in some copies, while a number of poems were moved from Songs of Innocence to Songs of Experience. Blake continued to print the work throughout his life. Of the copies of the original collection, only 28 published during his life are known to exist, with an additional 16 published posthumously. Only 5 of the poems from Songs of Experience appeared individually before 1839.
The first and last stanzas are identical except the word "could" becomes "dare" in the second iteration. Kazin says to begin to wonder about the tiger, and its nature, can only lead to a daring to wonder about it. Blake achieves great power through the use of alliteration ("frame" and "fearful") combined with imagery, (burning, fire, eyes), and he structures the poem to ring with incessant repetitive questioning, demanding of the creature, "Who made thee?". In the second stanza the focus moves from the tiger, the creation, to the creator – of whom Blakes wonders "What dread hand? & what dread feet?". "The Tyger" is six stanzas in length, each stanza four lines long. Much of the poem follows the metrical pattern of its first line and can be scanned as trochaic tetrameter catalectic. A number of lines, however—such as line four in the first stanza—fall into iambic tetrameter.
"The Tyger" lacks narrative movement. The first stanza opens the central question: "What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?". Here the direct address to the creature becomes most obvious, but certainly the tyger cannot provide the lyrical I with a satisfactory answer. So the contemplation continues. The second stanza questions "the Tyger" about where he was created, the third about how the creator formed him, the fourth about what tools were used. In the fifth stanza Blake wonders how the creator reacted to "the Tyger" and who created the creature. Finally, the sixth restates the central question while raising the stakes; rather than merely question what/who could create the Tyger, the speaker wonders: who dares.
Themes and critical analysis
"The Tyger" is the sister poem to "The Lamb" (from "Songs of Innocence"), a reflection of similar ideas from a different perspective (Blake's concept of "contraries"), with "The Lamb" bringing attention to innocence. "The Tyger" presents a duality between aesthetic beauty and primal ferocity, and Blake believes that to see one, the hand that created "The Lamb", one must also see the other, the hand that created "The Tyger”: "Did he who made the Lamb make thee? The Songs of Experience were written as a contrary to the "Songs of Innocence" – a central tenet in Blake's philosophy, and central theme in his work. The struggle of humanity is based on the concept of the contrary nature of things, Blake believed, and thus, to achieve truth one must see the contraries in innocence and experience. Experience is not the face of evil but rather another facet of that which created us. Kazin says of Blake that, "Never is he more heretical than ... where he glories in the hammer and fire out of which are struck ... the Tyger". Rather than believing in war between good and evil or heaven and hell Blake thought each man must first see and then resolve the contraries of existence and life; in "The Tyger" he presents a poem of "triumphant human awareness", and "a hymn to pure being", according to Kazin.
- Kazin, 41-43
- Eaves, pg. 207
- Whitson and Whittaker 63-71
- Gilchrist 1907 p. 118
- Gilchrist 1907 p. 118
- Davis 1977 p. 55
- Damon 1988 p. 378
- Bentley 2003 p. 148
- Bentley, G. E. (editor) William Blake: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1975.
- Bentley, G. E. Jr. The Stranger From Paradise. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-300-10030-2
- Damon, S. Foster. A Blake Dictionary. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1988.
- Davis, Michael. William Blake: A New Kind of Man. University of California Press, 1977.
- Eaves, Morris. The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, 2003. ISBN 978-0-521-78677-5
- Gilchrist, Alexander. The Life of William Blake. London: John Lane Company, 1907.
- Kazin, Alfred. "Introduction". The Portable Blake. The Viking Portable Library.
- Whitson, Roger and Jason Whittaker. William Blake and Digital Humanities:Collaboration, Participation, and Social Media. New York: Routledge, 2013. ISBN 978-0415-65618-4.
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- A Comparison of Different Versions of Blake's Printing of the The Tyger at the William Blake Archive
- The Taoing of a Sound – Phonetic Drama in William Blake’s The Tyger Detailed stylistic analysis of the poem by linguist Haj Ross