Summary of ‘The Tyger’
William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” is the best example of pre-romantic poetry. The poem is divided into six short stanzas of four lines each. The sixth stanza is a repetition of the first. It has an end rhyme pattern of aabb, ccdd… The poem’s primary emotion is wonder, and the object of wonder is a single animal, a tiger. All of these factors combine to make it the best example of pre-romantic simplicity, and it anticipates the poems of the romantic era.
“The Tyger” first appeared in the collection Songs of Experience, which was published in 1794. It is frequently contrasted with Blake’s other poem, “The Lamb,” which appeared in the collection Songs of Innocence (1789). Blake’s most well-known poem is arguably “The Tyger.” The poem’s opening line, “TygerTyger, burning bright,” is one of the most famous opening lines in English poetry. In summary, Blake’s speaker in “Tyger Tyger, burning bright” (as the poem is also known) wonders about the creator responsible for such a fearsome creature as the tiger. The tiger’s aura of danger is evoked by the poem’s fiery imagery: fire equates to fear. Do not get too close to the tiger, Blake’s poem seems to say, or you will get burned. The first and sixth stanzas, which are identical in every way except for the change from “Could frame” to “Dare frame,” frame the poem, inquiring about the immortal creator responsible for the beast. The second stanza expands on the fire imagery established by the image of the tiger “burning bright,” with mention of “the fire of the creature’s eyes” and the idea of the creator fashioning the tiger out of pure fire, as if he (or He) reached his hand into the fire and moulded the creature from it. (Of course, the image succeeds because of the flame-like appearance of a tiger’s stripes.) The tiger had to have been created by a god who enjoyed playing with fire. Blake introduces another central metaphor in the third and fourth stanzas, explicitly drawing a comparison between God and a blacksmith. It is as if the Creator created the blacksmith in his forge, hammering the raw materials into the living, breathing ferocious creature that now walks the earth.
The fifth stanza is more perplexing, but “stars” have long been associated with human destiny (as the root of “astrology” emphasises). For Kathleen Raine, this stanza is linked to another of William Blake’s works, The Four Zoas, where the phrase “the stars threw down their spears,” which appears in “The Tyger,” also appears. There, it is the godlike creator of the universe (Urizen in Blake’s mythology) who says it; Urizen’s fall, along with the fall of the stars and planets, is what brought about the creation of life on Earth in Blake’s Creation storey. Blake wonders if the Creator regarded the Tyger with pride when he created it. How might we interpret “The Tyger”? What does it all mean? The broader point is one that many Christian believers have had to grapple with: if God is all-loving, why did he create such a fearsome and dangerous animal? We can not easily fit the tiger into the “All Things Bright and Beautiful” view of Christian creation. As Blake himself asks, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” In other words, did God create both gentle and meek animals, as well as destructive and ferocious ones? Presumably, the question is rhetorical; the real question-behind-the-question is why. (This may help to explain Blake’s reference to “fearful symmetry”: he is describing not only the remarkable patterns on the tiger’s skin and fur that humans have come to fear, but also the “symmetry” between the innocent lamb on the one hand and the fearsome tiger on the other. (“Fearful” means “fearsome” here, which is confusing.) Indeed, we could extend this analysis to see the duality between the lamb and the tiger as specifically referring to the two versions of God in Christianity: the vengeful and punitive Old Testament God, Yahweh, and the meek and forgiving God of the New Testament. The long-standing associations between the lamb and Jesus Christ support such an interpretation. While not a biblical animal, the tiger symbolises Yahweh’s vengeance and awesome power in the Old Testament.
But none of these interpretations quite settles into undeniable fact. “The Tyger” remains an enigma, a fearsome and elusive beast, like the creature itself.
Explanation of ‘The Tyger’
The poet begins the poem with two exclamatory addresses to the tiger, whose contrasting black and yellow stripes glow brightly against the dark background of the night’s forests. It is worth noting that it is not nighttime. The forest is dark not because it is nighttime, but because darkness is the dominant force here. The poem is essentially a series of questions. The poet is taken aback by the creature’s terrifying beauty and wonders what “immortal hand or eye” could have framed it. Take note of the words “immortal” and “fearful.” They represent the tiger’s dual nature as a symbol of both terror and divinity.
In the next stanza, the poet inquires as to where the tiger got the fire in its eyes, whether it came from beneath the earth’s surface or from the heavens above. The tiger, it is easy to imagine, was forged from the smith’s fire. The poet is also curious about its creator, asking who can dare to aspire to such a magnificent creation and whose hand can mould it into its perfect form out of the eternally burning fire. Who else but God could have the audacity to do such a thing? When Blake refers to the “deeps,” he may be referring to the volcanoes where Vulcan’s workshop was located. Vulcan is the divine smith of Roman mythology, and the word “volcano” is derived from his name. When Blake mentions the ‘wings,’ he could be referring to Daedalus once more. Daedalus was a Greek mythological figure who created wax wings to fly beyond the known world. Finally, the act of seizing the fire may allude to Prometheus, who stole fire from God for the sake of humanity. Blake may have intended to portray the tiger as the product of revolutionary zeal by alluding to all these mythical and legendary figures with creative potential and a desire to do something extraordinary.
As previously stated, the tiger is a symbol of both terror and beauty. As the poet lingers longer on the bodily details in the third and fourth stanzas, the terror becomes more palpable. It emphasises the tiger’s terrifying nature. It appears to be the work of a human hand twisting and forging metal. The use of words like ‘hammer,’ ‘chain,’ ‘furnace,’ and ‘anvil’ reinforces the image of the smith working on his monstrous creation. It does, however, re-emphasize the fantastic symmetry invoked at the start as the smith gradually moulds the individual body parts of the tiger. The words ‘grasp’ and ‘clasp’ allude to the immortal creator’s vast control over his creation.
The fifth stanza takes a step forward, shifting from the actual process of creation to its consequences. The tiger is a revolutionary creature. God the Father’s restrictive authority was symbolised by the’stars’ and ‘heaven.’ It could also be a reference to political repression carried out by kings, nobles, and the Church at the time Blake was writing. The image of the stars laying down their spears can be interpreted as a sign of authority being relinquished and the triumph of political liberty. The maker’s identity is reinforced once more by the two questions at the end of the stanza. Is the creator pleased to see his creation accomplishing the goal for which it was created? This question could be answered from a political standpoint. If the tiger represents the triumph of the masses over political tyranny, then the tiger’s victory over the ‘forests of the night’ represents the triumph of the masses over political tyranny. The second question, on the other hand, returns the poem to its Christian roots. Remember the poem “The Lamb” from the beginning, and how Christ took on the roles of both the lamb and the tiger. If the image of the lamb is required to spread the message of gentleness and mercy, then the terrifying image of the tiger is required to combat the evil power of darkness.
The poem’s final stanza re-emphasizes, but in a different way, the question posed at the start. In the last line, the word ‘dare’ replaces the word ‘could’ from the first stanza. What it accomplishes is to emphasise the poet’s initial sense of wonder and befuddlement. The image of the tiger is complete, and it is said to have served its purpose. However, the poet is still awestruck. “Could a spectacle like the one we have just witnessed be really conceived?” “Who could dare to do so?” The answer has already been given, but the poet still wonders if such a revolution could really happen. “Will Christ actually appear in the form of a tiger to restore the lost order of the contemporary times?” The poem is set in the contemporary context of the French Revolution and its consequences in this final stanza.
Personification is a key poetic technique that runs throughout the poem. It is a way of expressing an abstract quality or concept as a person or a creature. The image of the tiger represents a facet of Christ as well as the result of a revolution. Throughout the poem, the tiger represents one of two meanings. The ‘immortal’ creator’s suggestion of body parts such as ‘hand or eye,’ ‘wings,’ and’shoulder’ serve as helpful pointers towards their possible association with one or more figures from legends and mythologies. Furthermore, the representation of Christ in the figures of the lamb and the tiger elicit Christian associations, which aid our understanding of the poem through Blake’s peculiar ideas about Christianity. Blake’s use of the symbols of the stars hurling down their spears and of heaven has contemporary historical significance for him. Similar images are used to refer to the king and his assemblies in “The French Revolution,” as well as the thrones of the kings in “America.” They represent the tyrants’ defeat and their weeping, which can be due to repentance or unrepentant anguish.