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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Tyger

(The Tyger, written and illustrated by
William Blake, 1757-1827, English poet,
painter, engraver, and mystic visionary)

“The Tyger” may be Blake’s most famous verse. It was published in Songs of Experience, the second of his two books “shewing the two contrary states of the human soul.”

Blake uses the more archaic spelling for this animal, perhaps to emphasize the wild and exotic nature of a creature that was largely unknown to the people of the British Isles at the time.

What are we to make of the fact, he asks rhetorically, that the Creator of the peaceful lamb also made this fearsome beast? Twice Blake refers to a “fearful symmetry.” We see a physical symmetry in the tiger’s eyes, limbs, and stripes. But that phrase also points to a possible response to his two poems. We carry within us two natures, that of the meek and mild lamb and that of the violent, frightening tiger.


Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

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?

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?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

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