Songs of Innocence and Experience Contents
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context
- Textual history
- Songs of Innocence
- Introduction (I)
- The Shepherd
- The Ecchoing Green
- The Lamb
- The little black boy
- The Blossom
- The chimney sweeper (I)
- The little boy lost (I)
- The Little Boy Found
- Laughing song
- A Cradle Song
- The Divine Image
- Holy Thursday (I)
- Nurse's Song (I)
- Infant Joy
- A Dream
- On Another's Sorrow
- Songs of Experience
- Introduction (E)
- Earth's Answer
- The Clod and the Pebble
- Holy Thursday (E)
- The Little Girl Lost
- The Little Girl Found
- The Chimney Sweeper (E)
- Nurse's Song (E)
- The Sick Rose
- The Fly
- The Angel
- The Tyger
- My Pretty Rose-tree
- Ah! Sun-flower
- The Lilly
- The Garden of Love
- The Little Vagabond
- The Human Abstract
- Infant Sorrow
- A Poison Tree
- A Little Boy Lost (E)
- A Little Girl Lost
- To Tirzah
- The Schoolboy
- The Voice of the Ancient Bard
- A Divine Image
The Tyger - Synopsis and commentary
Synopsis of The Tyger
The poem begins with the speaker's awe before the majestic ferocity of the tiger. He is then moved to what kind of divine being could have created it:
Could frame they fearful symmetry?'
Each subsequent stanza contains further questions, developing from this first one:
- In what kind of world could such a creature exist?
- What kind of creator could produce such a creature?
- What kind of power and skill would have been required to ‘twist the sinews' of the tiger's heart?
- What kind of creator would have had the courage and the daring to continue the work of creating such ferocity?
- Comparing the creator to a blacksmith, he wonders what kind of hammer, anvil and furnace would be necessary and what kind of blacksmith could have used such tools?
- Did creating this ferocious beast give pleasure to its creator?
- Could this possibly be the same divine being who made the lamb?
This is a companion poem to The Lamb in Songs of Innocence. The poem invites us to consider the mind which produces questions about the nature of the world and its creator. It also challenges the reader to accept that the dangerous and potentially destructive forces in the world are also attractive and beautiful.
This is a poem which can be read in two ways. If we read it apart from knowledge of Blake's beliefs, it yields one meaning. If we read it using that knowledge, we find another.
First possible reading
The tiger is strikingly beautiful yet also horrific in its power, energy and - through its association with fire - capacity for destructiveness. It's clear that the tiger is symbolic. ‘The forests of the night' suggests places of darkness where it is easy to get lost, where wild beasts lurk. It seems, then, to be an energy inhabiting the dark and destructive aspects of human nature and experience. The associations with ‘distant deeps or skies' suggests that this power resides not only in humans but in the whole of creation. Thus, the tiger is an embodiment of the fierce energy present in the cosmos.
The associations of the tiger's creator with the fall of the angels (‘When the stars threw down their spears') and the establishment of Hell, would seem to suggest that the tiger is a demonic, evil force. This is developed by the emphasis upon its terrible aspects in stanzas 3 and 4 with the repetition of ‘dread' and ‘deadly terrors'.
The main focus, however, is not on the identity of the tiger but of the tiger's creator. What kind of a God could or would design such a terrifying beast as the tiger? The verb ‘frame' suggests that the maker can both build and encompass or restrict this mighty animal. If the tiger is so terrible, how much more terrible must its creator be? This beast is the product not only of ferocious, immense power – ‘hand', ‘shoulder', ‘hammer', ‘chain', ‘furnace', ‘anvil'. It is also the product of a creating mind – an ‘eye', an ‘art'. Does he ‘smile his work to see' because he takes pleasure in violence and evil? Is it, therefore, a malicious smile? Or is the smile because the tiger's ferocity is also attractive and beautiful? What kind of God could envisage and create both the beautiful, sensuous ferocity of the tiger and the beautiful, meek tenderness of the Lamb?
This reading suggests that Blake's concern here is with the perennial problem of evil and the existence of a good God. How can a good God allow or produce what is evil? How can evil exist in a world created by a good God?
The second possible reading
This acknowledges the same reflections on the presentation of the tiger, but it starts from a question arising from knowledge of Blake's beliefs. Blake did not believe in an external God, a ruler / creator apart from humanity. If this is so, who is the creator here?
According to Blake, the creator is a creation of the mind of the speaker, which can only operate from the perspective of Experience:
- It is the mind which produces the God which Blake rejects in To Nobodaddy
- It creates the division between the lamb and the tiger, seeing them as incompatible, labelling meekness and vulnerability ‘good' and power, will, force ‘bad'
- It sees the world as a battle between a ‘good' God, creator of the Lamb and an ‘evil' force of angels associated with the dynamism of the tiger.
Yet the tiger is only a moral problem for those who are limited by such a perspective. The creator of the tiger is the product of the ‘mind fetters' which enchain the human being. In this reading, therefore, the poem is primarily about the attitude of the narrator, rather than the apparent subject matter.
Investigating The Tyger
- Which of these two readings seems to you to be closer to the content of the poem?
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