Summary of The Tyger by William Blake

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About the poet:

William Blake was an English painter, poet, and printmaker. Though his work went unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.

Blake’s first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, was printed around 1783 and in 1784, Blake composed his unfinished manuscript An Island in the Moon.

Although Blake’s attacks on Christianity were shocking in his own day, his rejection of religiosity was not a rejection of religion per se. His view of orthodoxy can be seen in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a series of texts written in imitation of Biblical prophecy. In The Everlasting Gospel, Blake does not see Jesus as a philosopher or a messiah, but as a supremely creative being, who has risen above dogma, logic and even morality. One of Blake’s strongest objections to orthodox Christianity is that he felt it encouraged the suppression of natural desires and discouraged earthly joy. In A Vision of the Last Judgment, Blake says just that.

Blake had a complex relationship with Enlightenment philosophy. Due to his visionary religious beliefs, he opposed the Newtonian view of the universe. This mindset is reflected especially clearly in Jerusalem.

Social and political statements are often present in Blake’s mystical symbolism. His negative perspective on what he saw as oppression and restriction of rightful freedom extended to the Church as well. His spiritual beliefs are most evident in Songs of Experience (published in 1794. In this work, he distinguishes between the Old Testament God, whose restrictions he rejected, and the New Testament God, whom he saw as a positive influence.

About The Tyger:

“The Tiger” (also and originally spelled “The Tyger”) by William Blake was published in 1794 as part of his collection of poetry entitled Songs of Experience. Eminent literary critic Alfred Kazin calls it “the most famous of his poems,” and The Cambridge Companion to William Blake says it is “the most anthologized poem in English.”

The Songs of Experience was published as a follow up to Blake’s 1789 collection entitled Songs of Innocence. The two books were then published together under the merged title Songs of Innocence and Experience, showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul: the author and printer, W. Blake featuring 54 plates.

“The Tiger” is the sister poem to “The Lamb” (from “Songs of Innocence“). While “The Lamb” brings attention to innocence, “The Tiger” presents a duality between aesthetic beauty and primal ferocity. Blake believes that to see one, the hand that created “The Lamb”, one must also see the other, the hand that created “The Tiger”. Rather than believing in the war between good and evil or heaven and hell, Blake thought that every man must first see and then resolve the contraries of existence and of life.


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The setting of The Tyger:

This poem is set in a harsh but nevertheless awe-inspiring world. In this world, the Tiger’s bright eyes lurk out of the dark forests. This is also the world in which the tiger was actually created by a God whose work was similar to that of a blacksmith with his anvil and his furnace. The scariest moment that the poet imagines is the moment at which the tiger comes to life. However, in the fifth stanza only, the setting shifts to heaven where the stars have stopped their war in order to behold the tiger after its creation, and God himself is happy with his work.

Stanza-wise Summary of The Tyger:

The poem consists of 6 stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of 4 lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of 24 lines in total.

1st stanza:

Tiger Tiger, burning bright, 

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In this stanza, the poet sees the tiger and it seems to be glowing in the deep forests where it is roaming in the night time. Then he directly addresses the tiger and speaks to it. He says that its huge dimensions are bound to scare everyone who lays eyes on it. He is sure that no mortal being could have created such a fear-inducing creature.

2nd stanza:

In what distant deeps or skies. 

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?

In this stanza, the poet continues talking to the tiger. He says that when the tiger’s eyes glint, they appear to have a fire raging within them. He wonders aloud where such a fire could have been created – whether in the sea or the sky. At this point, the poet seems to have decided in favour of the sky as opposed to the sea bring the birth place of the fire in the tiger’s eyes, and so he asks what kind of wings the creator of the tiger had that he could hope to reach the high altitude where the fire was formed. He also asks how strong the hands of the tiger’s maker had to be that he was able to grasp the fire and bring it under his control.

3rd stanza:

And what shoulder, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

In this stanza, the poet imagines the tiger’s maker manipulating the ligaments of the tiger’s body with his own hands. He then asks how much force his shoulders would have to hold to be able to do that. He also asks what skillful technique would have to be adopted to accomplish this task. The poet also imagines the moment at which the tiger finally came alive with its beating heart, and wonders how powerful the maker’s hands and feet would have to be in order to not be intimidated by the beast.

4th stanza:

What the hammer? what the chain, 

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp, 

Dare its deadly terror’s clasp! 

In this stanza, the poet imagines the creator of the tiger to have been a blacksmith. He imagines that the body of the tiger was made in metal with such implements as the hammer and the chain. He also imagines that the brain of the tiger must have been made in the heated temperatures of a furnace. It must have been a terrible sight to watch the tiger being created, and so it must have been a very powerful fist that could grab the tiger in its grasp.

5th stanza:

When the stars threw down their spears 

And water’d heaven with their tears: 

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Till the fourth stanza, we had been guessing that the maker of the tiger that Blake was hinting at was God. However, in this stanza, we find sure shot proof of this assumption. The poet imagines that after God had brought the tiger to life, the stars in heaven (who had been engaged in a battle at the time) relinquished their weapons. They were so overwhelmed at the sight of the tiger that they started to weep. The poet wonders whether God had been pleased with his creation of the tiger, and smiled. He also wonders whether it was the same God who had made both the tiger and the lamb.

6th stanza:

Tiger Tiger burning bright, 

In the forests of the night: 

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This stanza is composed of almost the same words as the first stanza. Only the last line is slightly changed. Instead of asking who could have created the fearsome tiger, the poet asks who would have dared to do so. God creates the tiger not just because he can, but also because he has been able to take a chance in doing so. Why God has created such a scary being is a question that continues to baffle human beings.

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