The Tyger - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

There is frequent use of sibilance throughout The Tyger, particularly in the second stanza and the phrase ‘twist the sinews', which is associated with evil or dark forces. The poem's trochaic metre creates an insistent rhythm, perhaps reflecting the restless pacing of the animal, the beating of its heart or the hammer blows on the anvil of its creation. This is enhanced in the language by the frequent use of hard D and plosive B alliteration and the driving repetition of ‘What … And … What', as well as whole phrases. There is also an accumulation of rhetorical questions, none of which expects a specific answer.

Their content reflects the nature of the speaker's view of creation and the clear division in his / her mind between the world of attractive but fearful power and the world of the gentle lamb. The ‘bright' / ‘night' imagery echoes this contrast as well as alluding to the tiger's orange and black markings. The contraries of beauty and terror are combined.

The speaker's state of mind is further suggested in the shift from the repeated ‘dread' in stanzas three and four to ‘deadly' in stanza four. The similarity in sound makes it an apparently simple connection. There is, however, an unjustified equation in the speaker's movement from one to the other. What causes dread or awe is not necessarily also deadly. The limitations of the speaker's position are clear in the question, ‘Did he smile his work to see?', with the implication that only something malicious could be pleased with this creature.

Investigating language and tone

  • Look carefully at the rhetorical questions
    • Do you think they are designed to give you a clearer picture of the tiger or to rouse emotions and impressions in the reader?

Structure and versification

The poem is comprised of six quatrains in rhymed couplets. The metre is basically trochaic tetrameter, often used in children's rhymes. Together with the use of monosyllables, it gives a misleading impression of simplicity as well as an emphatic tone.

The last syllable is dropped so that lines end with a stressed syllable to give a strong rhyme or masculine rhyme. The hammering beat it produces is suggestive of the smithy that is the poem's central image. This is amplified by the exclamations which give an energy to the opening and closing quatrains and the accumulation of questions.

Some lines are marked by a change in metre to iambic, such as, ‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?' The sudden change in metre highlights this question, then renewed emphasis is achieved by a return to the trochaic beat.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Why do you think Blake has employed a metre that is often found in children's verse?
  • Do you think it is effective to write in a metre and rhythm that contradicts the content of the poem?
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