The Tyger

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The Tyger
by William Blake
The Tyger BM a 1794.jpg
Copy A of Blake's original printing of The Tyger, 1794. Copy A is held by the British Museum.
CountryUK (then Kingdom of Great Britain)
LanguageEnglish
Publication date1794 (1794)
Read onlineThe Tyger at Wikisource

"The Tyger" is a poem by the English poet William Blake, published in 1794 as part of his Songs of Experience collection and rising to notoriety in the romantic period. It has been the subject of both literary criticism and many adaptations, including various musical versions.[1] The poem is one of the most anthologised in the English literary canon.[2] The poem explores and questions Christian religious paradigms prevalent in late 18th century and early 19th century England, discussing God's intention and motivation for creating both the tiger and the lamb.[3]

The Songs of Experience[edit]

The Songs of Experience was published in 1794 as a follow up to Blake's 1789 Songs of Innocence.[4] The two books were published together under the merged title Songs of Innocence and of Experience, showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul: the author and printer, W. Blake[4] 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.[5] Of the copies of the original collection, only 28 published during his life are known to exist, with an additional 16 published posthumously.[6] Only five of the poems from Songs of Experience appeared individually before 1839.[7]

Poem[edit]

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 water'd 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?[8][9]

The Tyger

Structure[edit]

"The Tyger" is six stanzas in length, each stanza being 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 poem is structured around core 'religious' and Christian-centered questions by the persona concerning 'the creature' including the phrase "Who made thee?". These questions utilise the repetition of alliteration ("frame" and "fearful") combined with imagery (burning, fire, eyes) to frame the arc of the poem.

The first stanza opens the poem with a line of central questioning stating "What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?". This direct address to the creature serves as a foundation for the poem's contemplative style as "the Tyger" cannot provide the lyrical "I" with a satisfactory answer. The second stanza questions "the Tyger" about where he was created, while the third stanza sees the focus move from the tiger, the creation, to the creator – of whom the narrator wonders "What dread hand? & what dread feet?".[10] The fourth stanza questions what tools were used in the tiger's creation. In the fifth stanza, the narrator wonders how the creator reacted to "the Tyger", and questions who created the creature. Finally, the sixth stanza is identical to the poem's first stanza but rephrases the last line, altering its meaning. Rather than question who or what "could" create "the Tyger", the speaker wonders: who dares?

Themes and critical analysis[edit]

"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. In "The Tyger", there is a duality between aesthetic beauty and primal ferocity, with Blake suggesting 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.[10] 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, he argues, is not the face of evil but rather another facet of that which created us. Kazin says of Blake, "Never is he more heretical than ... where he glories in the hammer and fire out of which are struck ... the Tyger".[10] 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.[10]

Musical versions[edit]

Blake's original tunes for his poems have been lost in time, but many artists have tried to create their own versions of the tunes.[11]

Bob Dylan also refers to Blake's poem in "Roll on John" (2012).[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Whitson and Whittaker 63–71.
  2. ^ Eaves, p. 207.
  3. ^ Freed, Eugenie R. (2014-07-03). "'By Wondrous Birth': The Nativity of William Blake's 'The Tyger'". English Studies in Africa. 57 (2): 13–32. doi:10.1080/00138398.2014.963281. ISSN 0013-8398. S2CID 161470600.
  4. ^ a b Gilchrist 1907 p. 118
  5. ^ Davis 1977 p. 55
  6. ^ Damon 1988 p. 378
  7. ^ Bentley 2003 p. 148
  8. ^ Blake, William (1757–1827). Johnson, Mary Lynn; Grant, John Ernest (eds.). Blake's Poetry and Designs: Authoritative texts, Illuminations in Color and Monochrome, Related Prose, Criticism. W. W. Norton Company, Inc., 1979. pp. 21-22. ISBN 0393044874.
  9. ^ Blake, William (1757–1827). Erdman, David V. (ed.). The Complete Poetry and Prose (Newly revised ed.). Anchor Books, 1988. pp. 24-25. ISBN 0385152132.
  10. ^ a b c d Kazin, 41–43.
  11. ^ #3746: "Songs of Experience": Music Inspired by Poetry of William Blake | New Sounds - Hand-picked music, genre free, retrieved 2017-12-07
  12. ^ "In the Forests of the Night – Howard Frazin". Retrieved 2020-10-15.
  13. ^ "John Tavener". musicsalesclassical.com. Chester Music. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  14. ^ "Roll on John". Bob Dylan. Retrieved 2021-05-11.

Sources[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]