To Tirzah - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

Blake accumulates descriptions of Tirzah which contradict the normal, sentimental picture of mothers as generous, life-affirming and sacrificial in their love. Certainly these descriptions contradict the usual terms associated with the archetypal mother-figure, Mary the mother of Jesus, through whom he received his physical form. Here, what the mother represents is rejected. Tirzah is cruel and deceiving, life-denying and confining.

This is conveyed by unusual inversions in the last stanza:

  • We normally speak of someone being ‘betrayed to death' but here the human being is betrayed to ‘Mortal Life.' This suggests that mortal life is, indeed, equivalent to death
  • Normally, life would be associated with freedom and death with confinement. Here, it is death which has given freedom.

Investigating language and tone

  • What attitude to the human body do you derive from Blake's language in describing Tirzah?

Structure and versification

The closed rhyming couplets give a sententious quality to the poem, which is broken by the direct address of, ‘What have I to do with thee?' The metre is essentially iambic tetrameter, its regularity appropriate for the delivery of the speaker's decided beliefs. S/he is not entering into any argument or process of reflection; each couplet presents a completed thought.

The plosive B alliteration gives a harsh tone to the opening of the poem which later reverberates in ‘Blow'd', ‘bind' and ‘betray'. Hard C and D consonants punctuate the sibilance in stanza two and deceptively soft M alliteration in stanza three.

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