A Poem by William Blake (1757-1827)
A Study Guide
..Study Guide Prepared by By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003Type of Work and Year of Publication
"The Tiger," originally called "The Tyger," is a lyric poem focusing on the nature of God and his creations. It was published in 1794 in a collection entitled Songs of Experience. Modern anthologies often print "The Tiger" alongside an earlier Blake poem, "The Lamb," published in 1789 in a collection entitled Songs of Innocence.
The poem is in trochaic tetrameter with catalexis at the end of each line. Here is an explanation of these technical terms:
Tetrameter Line: a poetry line usually with eight syllables.The following illustration using the first two lines of the poem demonstrates tetrameter with four trochaic feet, the last one catalectic:
Trochaic Foot: A pair of syllables--a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.
Catalexis: The absence of a syllable in the final foot in a line. In Blake’s poem, an unstressed syllable is absent in the last foot of each line. Thus, every line has seven syllables, not the conventional eight.
.....1...........2...............3..................4Notice that the fourth foot in each line eliminates the conventional unstressed syllable (catalexis). However, this irregularity in the trochaic pattern does not harm the rhythm of the poem. In fact, it may actually enhance it, allowing each line to end with an accented syllable that seems to mimic the beat of the maker’s hammer on the anvil. For a detailed discussion of meter and the various types of feet, click here.
IN the..|..FOR ests..|..OF the..|..NIGHT
.Structure and Rhyme Scheme
The poem consists of six quatrains. (A quatrain is a four-line stanza.) Each quatrain contains two couplets. (A couplet is a pair of rhyming lines). Thus we have a twenty-four-line poem with twelve couplets and six stanzas–a neat, balanced package. The question in the final stanza repeats (except for one word, dare) the wording of the first stanza, perhaps suggesting that the question Blake raises will continue to perplex thinkers ad infinitum.
Alliteration: Tiger, tiger, burning bright (line 1); frame thy fearful symmetry? (line 4)
The Tiger: Evil (or Satan)
The Existence of Evil
“The Tiger” presents a question that embodies the central theme: Who created the tiger? Was it the kind and loving God who made the lamb? Or was it Satan? Blake presents his question in lines 3 and 4:
What immortal hand or eyeBlake realizes, of course, that God made all the creatures on earth. However, to express his bewilderment that the God who created the gentle lamb also created the terrifying tiger, he includes Satan as a possible creator while raising his rhetorical questions, notably the one he asks in lines 5 and 6:
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skiesDeeps appears to refer to hell and skies to heaven. In either case, there would be fire--the fire of hell or the fire of the stars.
Burnt the fire of thy eyes?
Of course, there can be no gainsaying that the tiger symbolizes evil, or the incarnation of evil, and that the lamb (Line 20) represents goodness, or Christ. Blake's inquiry is a variation on an old philosophical and theological question: Why does evil exist in a universe created and ruled by a benevolent God? Blake provides no answer. His mission is to reflect reality in arresting images. A poet’s first purpose, after all, is to present the world and its denizens in language that stimulates the aesthetic sense; he is not to exhort or moralize. Nevertheless, the poem does stir the reader to deep thought. Here is the tiger, fierce and brutal in its quest for sustenance; there is the lamb, meek and gentle in its quest for survival. Is it possible that the same God who made the lamb also made the tiger? Or was the tiger the devil's work?
The Awe and Mystery of Creation and the Creator
The poem is more about the creator of the tiger than it is about the tiger intself. In contemplating the terrible ferocity and awesome symmetry of the tiger, the speaker is at a loss to explain how the same God who made the lamb could make the tiger. Hence, this theme: humans are incapable of fully understanding the mind of God and the mystery of