Tyger Tyger

The Tyger, written and illustrated by William Blake
The Tyger-Written and Illustrated by William Blake from Songs of Experience 1794

The Tyger which was first published in 1794 in  William Blake’s Songs of Experience  was later merged with Blake’s previous collection of 1789 Songs of Innocence as Songs of Innocence and of Experience, showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. As with all of Blake’s work it was illuminated and printed by himself.

The Tyger is probably the most famous of Blake’s poems and justifiably so. It is a magical distillation of Blake’s major themes and metaphysics in a short poem of six, four line stanzas with a miraculous melding of form and content. It is in my opinion, the one poem in English literature that comes closest to achieving absolute perfection.

At the time of writing tigers would still have possessed a near mythical status. It is possible that Blake may have seen a tiger cub that was exhibited in a travelling rarity show, hence the childlike and rather cuddly tiger depicted in the plate. The poem is a different matter altogether though. The beauty and the ferocity of the Tyger prompt Blake to question the idea of a benevolent God and leads to a vision of the sublime.

Blake’s Tyger is a Platonic Ideal Form which explains the idiosyncratic spelling. The poem opens with a reiteration, pointing towards the symmetry which plays such an important part in the poem. The rest of the line and the next highlights the duality of the Tyger, who shines with the intensity of the sun (blazing bright) and its nocturnal nature (in the forest of the night). The following couplet that completes the stanza asks what kind of creator could fashion such a violently amoral animal, a question that is reiterated with greater force in the fifth stanza when Blake wonders, Did he who made the Lamb make thee? . The Tyger companion piece in Songs of Innocence  is The Lamb, an animal that has obvious connotations to Christ. The sixth and final stanza repeats the opening stanza with one important difference, dare replaces could in frame thy fearful symmetry.

Blake developed his own personal mythology and his view of God the Creator was idiosyncratic and complicated to say the least. He equated the Old Testament Jehovah with the Gnostic demiurge whom he called variously Urizen and Nobodaddy in his writing. The Ancients of Days is his most famous artistic representation of the Divine Architect of the material universe.

the-ancient-of-days-1794[1]
William Blake-The Ancient of Days 1794

38 thoughts on “Tyger Tyger

    1. Well lions would have religious connotations of their own so tigers would be more of an expression of the sublime (beauty, terror, fear and awe). Plus tigers, like more felines with the exception of lions are solitary which contrasts with the flock of sheep. Blake believes in the marriage of Heaven & Hell.

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  1. The tiger along with all the other animals created by God would have originally lived in peace with man. After all god tasked Adam with naming them. So it was only after man’s fall into sin that the big cats became predators. Or so sayeth the Sunday School teachers. When you find out that the predator is by its very anatomical design, a killer, well that changes everything. The shape of the nose and elongated jaw, for attenuated sense of smell for hunting and teeth perfectly positioned within the mandible for ripping flesh…. tells you they were always meant to kill. It’s a wonderful poem. The painting of the tiger is rather sweet. Quite a contrast to the reality!

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    1. Blake’s Christianity was always highly personal, and he thought that the two contradictory states, Innocence and Experience were necessary. He probably instinctively knew the paradoxical Gnostic take on Adam and Eve. The tiger is necessary in all its power and might. Obviously I love the poem, so many good lines, the hammer like lines that match the forging conceit in the middle of the poem. Glad you enjoyed.

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      1. Blake certainly believed in angels, though in this case I think it is referring to Creation…a clever link with the Tyger’s eyes in burning in the distant depths or skies… throwing down their spears in they rays of light. Although he didn’t say it I believe Blake would have agreed with the line that every man, woman and child is a star.

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      2. A very positive perspective. I’ve been slow in working my way through Blake. There is great depth there when considered slowly and carefully.

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  2. Agreed, this is an incredible poem. Something to think about: the ‘Tyger’ acts as a double metaphor – firstly, as this was written at the height of the Industrial Revolution, the ‘Tyger’ symbolises the raging fires of the multitude of factories which subjected men to physical tortures previously unknown. If ‘God’ created the more tranquil rural life (and yes I accept that this life was by no means easy, bur was certainly more natural) how could he also allow the subjugation of Man by machines. Secondly the Tyger represents Man’s creativity, which Blake regarded as truly ‘holy’ (for everything that lives is holy), and as such highlights the duality of design and free spirit.
    Of course none of us were witness to Blake’s thoughts, but worth thinking about I think.

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    1. Excellent points Chris. I agree that the Tyger represents creativity and imagination, the line who could/dare frame thy fearful symmetry leads to the answer-only an artist and crafts person would. And Blake certainly was one of the first poets to pick up on the tremendous changes introduced by industrialisation. Also there is occult inferences in the line in deep depths or skies… as above, so below. Unbelievable that anyone could pack some much in 24 lines…with such simplicity.

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    2. Urizen the demiurge is very much a materialistic God. A God of science and technology were quantity always trump quality, where imagination and creativity and all that is holy is trapped in the prison of the senses five.

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      1. This is absolutely true and, in a sense, Blake was quite prophetic here (as indeed in much of his work) as we continue to value technological advances over more ‘spiritual’ development.

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  3. All your posts on Blake are super 🙂 – A curious anecdote is that reading again this poem here, some two weeks ago, made me recall a great novel which holds its first stanza as epigraph (and its first words as title); a novel I’ve been always very fond of, and right now I’m reading and enjoying again – in fact, more than ever before: “Tiger! Tiger!” by Alfred Bester, 1956. (By the way, I heartily recommend it to whoever has not read it yet !)
    [Another “BTW”: you told me, awhile ago, you had had a look at my post series on Paul Delvaux, but it seems you did not like a single one of them 😦 … Could I humbly know the reasons? – Maybe they would help me to understand why they have had, as a whole, so very few likes :/

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    1. I have always meant to read this novel…often cited as a proto-New Wave science fiction novel. Sorry for my oversight, I have commented on one Delvaux post, can’t seem to find the rest that I Previously viewed.

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      1. Just read it! You will love it without any doubt 😉 It’s an amazing work (much beyond genera and classifications).
        About my blog, there is a search window near the botton of the home page; if you enter “Delvaux”, you will be shown all my several posts on him 🙂 I’m thankful for your comment a while ago, and I’m glad you liked it. ❤ ✨ !

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