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The Tyger

Revision Notes on William Blake's poem 'The Tyger'.




 Songs of Experience THE TYGER  The poem opens with an awesome appraisal of the physical appearance of the tiger. The poet asks what manner of creator he could be who could bring such a being into life, and so bemused is he by this thought that he continues with it into the third stanza. The mechanics of such an operation serve to intrigue him further and he wonders what devices and instruments the creator could have employed to bring about such a marvel. Was the creator pleased, finally, at what he had achieved? The tiger is an image of danger and materialism. His environment is wild and forbidden, a suggestion neatly combined here in the double image of ‘the forests of  the night’. Much of the poem is apparently an expression of wonder at the power and energy of this creature. The creative act needed to produce the object of such wonder  seems, to the poet, beyond comprehension: Blake says that nothing merely mortal could have formed such a being. The rhetorical build-up and the breathless abbreviation of the individual lines are highly effective in suggesting the sense of excited wonder that the poet would have us shared. The rhythmic pounding that is typical of the poem seems to echo the physical act of creation. The mystery of the contraries in creation reappears in this poem in Blake’s amazement that the God who created the aggressor, the tiger, could also create the  prey, the lamb. It is with this in mind that in the last stanza Blake introduces the word ‘dare’ in the final line to replace ‘could’ in the corresponding first stanza. God may well have the power to produce something that, in its turn, might challenge that  power. In this respect, the poem may be viewed as an allegory, reflecting the opposing powers of God and Satan, of good and evil. God created Satan in the first place, and now Satan challenges him for supremacy in the world. Satan lures and temptations are always more attractive, or ‘shining bright’, and many choose to follow his lead. This, indeed, may well be the source of the image in the penultimate (second last) stanza where ‘the stars threw down their spears’. There the ‘stars’ are representative of the subsequently as Satan, refused to serve God. This story is recounted in the Bible, in the Book of Revelation. Blake would be familiar with this account. He would be unfamiliar wither either the notion of Satan being likened to a wild beast ‘walking abroad like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour’ according to one writer in the New Testament. Such religious interpretations gain credence from the reference in the last line of the  penultimate stanza to the ‘Lamb’, which as been seen before, is Blake’s way of  representing Christ. SOURCE: York Notes ---------------------------- Both the rhythm and imagery of ‘The Tyger’ are likely to have made an impact on the reader. The rhythm seizes attention immediately with the exciting and emphatic stress on the first of each pair of syllables for example, ‘Tyger! Tyger! BURNing BRIGHT’. Similarly, the repetition of ‘What’  sounds through the earlier part of the poem like a series of hammer blows, coming to a climax in the fourth verse. Apart from the rhythm, the visual appeal is strong. The image of the tiger stands out in bright contrast to the ‘forests of the night’. The sparkling of the ‘stars’ perhaps links them with the ‘spears’ and then the ‘tears’, which can also sparkle in the light. At the same time, there is perhaps a progression in these images from something cold and aggressive to something more human and soft. Rhythm and imagery give the poem a structure. While combining to convey the poet’s awe and wonder at the fierce beauty of the tiger, at the same time it lends urgency to his questions about the nature of its creator suggested not only in the line ‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?’, but also in the subtle shift from ‘Could’ to ‘Dare’. Questions about the overall meaning might well include: - Are Are we we to to adm admir iree or or fea fearr the the tige tiger? r? - What What does does it rep repres resent? ent? - Did Did ‘he ‘he who who mad madee the the lamb lamb’’ mak makee the the tige tiger? r? - If so, so, wha whatt sor sortt of of cre creat ator or is he? he? Questions about the details of the poem might include: - What What are we to to under understa stand nd by by ‘the ‘the fore forests sts of the the nigh night’? t’? - And And by by ‘di ‘dist stan antt dee deeps ps of skie skies’ s’?? - How How can can star starss thro throw w spea spears rs and and whe when n did did they they??  APPROACH THROUGH CONTEXT  What similarities and contrasts are there between ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’? It is clear that the lamb is not simply the animal, nor yet simply an example of a meek  and innocent creature, for it is linked with Jesus as Lamb of God and as creator, (the child tells the lamb that its maker is ‘called by thy name’. It can now be seen that the question in ‘The Tyger’, ‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?’ may not simply be  pointing to two extremes of creation, but may be setting the concept of a ruthless creator god against that of a self-sacrificing, loving god.  POLITICS  One of the most likely sources of imagery for ‘The Tyger’ can be found in contemporary political writing. Once again, as in the case of Blake’s response to religious writings, it is possible to see how he reacted to the ideas of others. One  political pamphlet of the period, attacking the French Revolution, describes the revolutionaries as a tigerish multitude and observes that the wanton cruelty of the tiger is to be claimed exclusively by the democracy . William Wordsworth, who supported the earlier stages of the Revolution, said of Paris in 1792 that it was: …at the best a place of fear  Unfit for the repose which night requires, Defenceless as a wood where tigers roam. (1805 Prelude 10, 80-82) Wordsworth was writing after the events, but it seems clear that he was using imagery that was current at the period when Blake was writing ‘The Tyger’, because in 1792 Samuel Romilly wrote as follows about the founding of a French republic: One might  as well think of establishing a republic of tigers in some forest of Africa . QUESTION: This association of the revolutionaries with tigers offers an obvious interpretation of the poem, but what difference is there in the way in which Blake uses image? ANSWER: The other writers clearly use the tiger image to suggest the savagery of the revolution, but Blake, while using the image to suggest fierce power, also seems very conscious of its ‘burning’ beauty and ‘symmetry’, as one would expect of a supporter  of the revolution. However, does this answer all of our questions? Is it enough now to say that the forests of the night are simply the violent streets of revolutionary Paris? Such a neat solution would appear to ignore the open-ended nature of Blake’s evocative imagery.  ACTIVITY Q: Look at the illustration for ‘The Tyger’. How effectively does it match or add to the mood and meaning of the poem? At first sight, it has to be admitted that the picture of the tiger is rather disappointing. One critic suggests two reasons for this: 1) A totally totally realisti realisticc tiger would encourage encourage the the reader reader to think in literal terms instead of considering the energy it represents 2) Secondly, Secondly, Blake has tried tried to incorporate incorporate human human features features into the tiger’s face to show that the same qualities can  be found in man. Some would argue, however, that this particular illustration quite simply fails to match the accompanying text in the intensity of its artistic vision. SOURCE: Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Blake, Oxford Student Texts ---------------- The Tiger  Blake’s mythology provides further illumination. The figure of Orc is frequently associated with fire, on of the key images of the poem. He is always presented s being energetic and creative. We might infer from this that the tiger, far from being a bearer  of destruction, is a symbol of creative power and beauty – a figure of vitality, liberty and desire. Classical mythology also offers a useful insight. According to myth, Prometheus stole the fire of the gods for the sake of man, thus literally ‘seiz [ing] the fire’. He is also associated with mythical stores of creation, which provides another connection with the poem. Revolution is another key concept. This poem can be an example of spiritual revolutionary. The poem’s iambic rhythm is forceful and pulsing, and is used to reinforce various aspects of the poem – it reflects the tiger’s relentless pacing, the beating of its heart, and the rhythmic blows of the hammer against the metal. Alliteration and repetition are used to create tension. The tiger’s orange and black  colouring is created by the contrasting ‘burning bright’ and ‘night’, the dangerous connotations of which suggest a more fearsome hunter than the placid beast of  Blake’s illustration. The reference to the ‘night’ is fitting, as darkness offers ideal conditions for tigers to stalk their prey. Blake thus establishes the tiger’s dangerous nature straight away, but his uncertainty of hot it came into being is signalled by his use of rhetorical questions throughout the  poem. In contrast to ‘The Lamb’, there are no simple answers. We are told that the tiger is the creation of an ‘immortal hand or eye’, and the power of its creator is stressed throughout. However, if it was made by the divine hand that created the lamb, Blake might be revealing God’s harsh and unpalatable side. God would therefore embody contraries of tenderness and power. This mixture of beauty and terror is another of Blake’s contraries, and in the final stanza, the word ‘dare’ tellingly replaces ‘could’ in the final line. This reflects the way in which our view of the creator has changed through the poem. Blake employs the extended metaphor of a blacksmith to describe the tiger’s creation. The harshness of the blacksmith imagery – a process dependent on fire – suits the harshness both creature and creator, whether it be God or Satan. This account of the creative process could not be more different from the piper’s description in ‘Introduction’. Words such as ‘twist’, ‘beat’, ‘dread’ and ‘deadly terrors’ all suggest danger – it is almost as if the animal is fighting with its maker in the very act of creation. The materials from which it is made are unbendingly resistant, as suggested by the use of  the ‘hammer’, the ‘chain and the ‘anvil’. SOURCE: AS/A-Level Student Text Guide, Phillip Allan