THE TYGER BY WILLIAM BLAKE
An Introductory Note
The poem, The Tyger, belongs to Blake’s volume of songs Songs of Experience. This is related to the tiger, a violent mighty animal, just opposite to the other creature, the lamb, mild and weak. Like the other poem, The Lamb, it is a child’s song, too. But it is not exactly an address to the tiger, although the child addresses the lamb in the other poem. The song is rather of the child’s sense of awe and wonder, at the creation of the tiger, particularly in the context of the creation of the meek and timid lamb.
1. The child wonders at the sight of the tiger, with its eyes brightly sparkling in the darkness of the dense forest. He feels curious to know of the strong and imperishable creative power that could shape such a stout, awful structure.
N. B. The child’s wonder starts with the tiger’s burning bright eyes, that is sharply antithetical to the deep gloom of the forest.
Again, there is a suggestive contrast here between the tiger and the lamb, one living in the deeply dark, almost inaccessible forest, and the other in the sunlit, plain, clear meadow.
Furthermore, the child assumes, in the case of the lamb, the knowledge of the Creator, but he does no such thing here. He rather expresses here his utter astonishment at the strength of the tiger.
II. The child wonders further at the process of the creation of the tiger. He fancies that the burning fire of its eyes must have been brought from some, remote unknown sea or sky. He feels astonished to think in what mighty way the Creator could go and hold firmly the fire to be put into the tiger’s eyes.
N. B. The child’s wonder and imagination about the Creator’s power to collect and put the fire into the tiger’s eyes come out here. The simplicity of creation in the case of the lamb is here replaced by the mystery and intricacy in the creative process. The contrast with the lamb is found continued.
III. The child continues to wonder at the nature of strength and skill, involved in the creation of the dreadful creature (tiger). He fancies of the Creator’s ability to twist the entire nerve system in order to put that into the tiger’s heart. He is excited enough to visualize how much might the Creator must have in His hands and feet to do that and control the tiger, as its heart began to throb and it became alive.
N. B. The sense of wonder and thrill of a simple, innocent child about the creation of the strong, dreadful tiger is indicated. The child has remained nothing but a child, with his child-like visualization about the rare feat of the creation of the tiger.
IV. The child traces, no doubt with wonder, the instruments which might have been needed and employed in the creation of the dreadful tiger. He specutales, with his child’s fancifulness, what ought to have been the hammer, the chain, the furnace and the anvil, used as the tools by the Creator in the making of its brain. Yet, he wonderingly fancies more about that strength to hold that brain firinly and keep that terrible creation fully under restraint.
N. B. The range of the childhood imagination about God’s creative power is cleanly evident here. There is nothing mystical or abstruse in the child’s contention. He conceives the process of creation from the angle of his own little experience in an ironsmith’s workshop. The simplicity of childhood innocence and the mysticism of God’s creation are finely synthesized by Blake.
V. With the characterestic childhood innocence, the child also tries to guess the reaction to that mysterious and terrible creation. He apprehends innocently the sense of shock and awe, resulting therefrom in the astronomical world. His innocent mind is particularly curious about the Creator?s own reaction at the creation of the violent tiger after the innocent lamb and he feels puzzled to think of the same Creator for two entirely contrary creatures.
N. B. Blake’s child remains a child, yet raises a question to strike the adult mind with profound thought. His simple innocence puts a two-fold interrogation :
“Did he smile his work to see?” “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
The questions impliedly refers to the propriety of the creation of the fierce tiger particularly after that of the lamb. The child does not know the answer, for that belongs to the province of adult wisdom.
The concluding stanza repeats the opening stanza with a very slight variation of ‘could by ‘dare’. The sense does not change thereby, but the latter word seems more emphatic.
This repetition, however, serves to offer some felicitous features. First, it retains the sense of wonder, innate in childhood, after the child’s quite provocative questions. Second, it retains the song-like character of the poem. In fact, within its simple texture, the poem is thematically not all simple. The serious and profound thought, unconsciously evoked by the child’s innocent interrogations, is removed in the repetition of the stanza and the poem is restored to the level of a child-song.
Annotations and Commenteries
Tyger! Tyger!-tiger! tiger! This is not the address of the child to the tiger, as in the case of the lamb
“Little Lamb, who made thee?” The expression is rather of wonder and, to some extent, fear at the sight of the mighty shape and the dreadful look of the tiger. N. B. The exclamatory mark need be noted.
Burning bright-brightly burning eyes of the tiger. In the forests of the night-in the darkness of the night. The forest is looked upon as deep and dense, and as such it is darkness. What the poet means is the night that is as dark as the forest. N. B. The expression is metaphorical enough. There is an implicit comparison between the ‘forests’ and the ‘night’. There is, however, a symbolic significance in this expression, too.
“The forests of the night’ stand to indicate gloom and evil, dominant in the human world. This prevalence of evil requires a fierce force for its removal. The tiger, with its terror and fierceness, possesses the power to burn away the forest of evil and darkness. Of course, it is too much to attribute this symbolic depth to the child who speaks in his childlike innocence and simplicity. It is a part of adult wisdom, and this gives a deeper significance to the apparently simple poem.
What immortal hand or eye-the reference is to the Creator Who must have, in the child’s vision, immortal hands and eyes. The Creator’s potency is indicated here. N. B. ‘God’ is here not mentioned, although in The Lamb, this is categorically available “Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!” Could frame-could make. Fearful-dreadful. Symmetry-shape, structure. Thy fearful symmetry-dreadful physical structure of the tiger. N. B. The tiger has a shapely and muscular physical body that looks dreadful enough.
Stanza 2 :
Deeps-deep seas; there is the imagination of the fire, emerging out of the deep ocean.
Burnt the fire …… thine eyes-the bright fire that is burning in the eyes of the tiger. The child imagines that the eyes of the tiger are burning with the fire. On what wings-the child wonders about the wings on which the Creator might have the flight. Dare he aspirecould He fly. On what aspire-the child imagines of the mighty flight of the Creator to gather the fire for the tiger’s eyes.
What the hand-the child thinks of the strength of the Creator’s hand. Dare sieze the fire-could have courage to catch the fire in the tiger’s eyes. This is reminiscent of the legend of Prometheus, the great Titan who stole the fire of heaven for the benefit of mankind.
N. B. The child wonderingly thinks of the Creator’s strength-the power of His hand to hold the fire that was into the tiger’s eyes’
What shoulder-the strength of the shoulder; this refers to the Creator’s strength. What art-the nature of the skill required. Could twistcould arrange by twisting. Sinews-muscles. Sinews are actually the fibrous tissues which unite the muscles to the bones. Sinews of thy heart-the nerve structure of the tiger’s heart.
And what shoulder….. thy heartthe child wonders, as he thinks of the strength as well as skill, involved in arranging the entire nerve-order in the tiger’s heart. N. B. The whole imagery is taken from anatomy. Blake’s child, in his simple song, unconsciously ref to the complicated process of the science of anatomy.
And when thy ….. beat-when the tiger was made alive. N. B. In his own naive way, the child fancies how the tiger was made living. As the sinews were twisted into its heart, it began to beat and the fierce beast became all alive. What dread hand–the reference is to the mighty hand of the Creator. The term ‘dread’ stands to mean ‘the dreadful strength of the Creator’s hand.
What dread feet-strong feet that could remain steady, as the tiger’s heart began to throb and the dreadful animal became all alive N. B This is once again the child’s wondering fancy of the Creator-His strength and skill and steadiness to keep the fierce tiger under control, as life was put into it. The whole concept is simple, romantic and true to childhood wonder.
Stanza 4 :
What the hammer?…..etc. The child wonders about the Creator’s instruments in the making of the tiger. What the hammer brain-in his simple child imagination, the instruments are all commonplace–the hammer, the chain and the anvil. The child visualizes their use in the making of the tiger’s brain. N. B. The instruments, mentioned here, are nothing rare and mystical. The child thinks, in his own way, of the tools, very much common in a workman’s shop.
What dread grasp—the powerful hold of the Creator. The child thinks of the dreadful power of the Creator for the creation of the dreadful creature tiger. Deadly terrors-violent dread, caused by the tiger. Dare its
clasp?-The child fancies of the Creator’s courage to keep under control the terrible dread of the tiger. N. B. The child wonders of the Creator’s boldness and force that must have been needed in the creation of the awful creature tiger.
Stanza 5 :
The stars-the stars stand for astronomical bodies. Threw down-here, shed. Their spears-their sparkle, their glitter. When the ….. spears-when the stars sparkled. N. B. The child’s wonder here is about the reaction of the astronomical world, after the completion of the creation of the tiger. How did the stars behave at the sight of the dreadful creature tiger?
The child speculates that they were terrified and shed out their lustre in terror at the sight of the terrible tiger and fled away. Water’d heaven ….. tears-in his childlike innocence, the child has the idea that those stars shed their tears out of fear, and their tear-drops fill heaven. N. B. The child’s vision is of the human being, shaking and shedding tears in fear at the sight of the ferocious tiger. There is an allusion here to Milton’s description of the rebel angels’ tears after their defeat in the great battle in Heaven.
Did he smile …. see? This is a pertinent question. The child questions how did the Creator Himself react at the terrible creation of the tiger. This introduces a quite genuine doubt about the propriety of the creation of the tiger. The child wants to know whether the Creator Himself was happy with His creation. The implication is His feeling after the dreadful tiger had become alive.
Did he who ….. thee? This is equally a pertinent question. The child feels puzzled to think of the creation of the lamb and the tiger by the same Creator. He wonders to ascertain how the two entirely opposite creatures could have come from the same Creator.
N. B. The child’s questions are plain and quite natural to his innocent nature. His child-mind puts the two straight questions that strike him. But such questions, underneath their simple surface, have a deeper significance which belongs to the province of adult wisdom. This indicates the Creator’s innate satisfaction over His creation of the tiger that is sharply in contrast with the other creation, that is lamb.
But such contrary creatures bear out the variety of the great Creator’s creative machinery, and variety is always the signal of the immensity as well as potency of creativity.
Stanza 6 :
This is the repetition of the opening stanza. There is only one change.
It is to be noted that the repetition of the stanz.? is necessary to have the song-like effect of the poem.
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