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The Tyger

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English Literature

'The Tyger' is the most famous poem of the Romantic poet William Blake. It has been adapted to music, paintings, sculpture and numerous other forms of art. 'The Tyger' touches on the themes of awe and wonder, the power of creation and religion.

'The Tyger': At a Glance

Written InSongs of Experience (complete collection: Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1794)
Written ByWilliam Blake (1757-1827)
Form / StyleRomantic poetry
MeterTrochaic tetrameter; catalectic
Rhyme SchemeRhyming Couplets
Literary DevicesExtended metaphor; alliteration; symbolism
Poetic DevicesEnd rhyme; refrain
Frequently noted imageryTyger; tools
ToneRhythmic chant; foreboding
Key themesAwe and wonder; Creation; Religion
MeaningThe speaker expresses amazement at the form of a fierce tiger and wonders about the intent behind its creation. The tiger is also compared to the lamb, thus reflecting the binary opposition of good and evil in the world.

'The Tyger': Context

'The Tyger': Historical Context

'The Tyger', written by William Blake, is one of the most read and most anthologised poems of the Romantic period. It belongs to the poetry collection Songs of Experience of the complete volume titled Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794). Blake was born into a family of dissenters and therefore, while being deeply religious, he was critical of organised religion and the Church of England. Furthermore, Blake was also critical of the Industrial Revolution and firmly believed that it was a means of enslaving people. The use of industrial and smithy tools in 'The Tyger' expresses Blake's wariness and fear of industry. Tigers were 'exotic'. This exoticism also contributes to the sense of awe and wonder that is thematically explored in the poem.

'The Tyger': Literary Context

Celebrating the form of the tiger, the poem 'The Tyger' can be called Romantic as it explores the nature of the creature, its individual qualities, and also the fearful emotions it evokes. The poem, as is typical of Blake's style, dabbles in Biblical ideas and religion as the speaker addresses the 'Creator' of the tiger, who also created the lamb. This is an interesting juxtaposition as it relates to Blake's poem 'The Lamb', which belongs to the collection called Songs of Innocence. The two poems have often been compared to raise the question of God's intention, the figure that created two such distinct creatures with contrasting features.

'The Tyger': Analysis

'The Tyger': The Poem

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, and what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand and 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 water'd 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?

'The Tyger': Summary

Pro Tip: A brief summary of the poem is a good way to begin an essay about a poem. Without going into too much detail, write 4-5 sentences that outline the basic meaning or purpose of the poem. The details and the complexities of the poem can be elaborated upon later in your essay.

The poem 'The Tyger' is an inquiry into the purpose of creating tigers. The poem reflects the idea that humans cannot comprehend the power of God and the Divine Will.

'The Tyger': Form and Structure

Pro Tip: When elaborating the form or structure of a poem, think of the following:1. What is the meter and the rhyme scheme of the poem? Is it consistent? If there is a change, is it gradual or sudden? How does this change affect the way the poem reads?

2. Read the poem in its entirety. Do you notice any repetitions? Is a pattern emerging?

3. How does the form affect the reading of the poem? Does it influence the main subject or theme of the poem?

The poem 'The Tyger' is a Romantic poem that consists of six quatrains (4 lines make 1 quatrain). Although appearing simple at first glance, the poem has a complex structure. The meter is not absolutely consistent, reflecting the nature and magnificence of the tiger, which is hard to describe and categorise. Because the number of lines per stanza and the rhyme scheme are consistent throughout, the poem feels like a chant, with some repeated lines - this is called a refrain. The chant-like quality of the poem is a nod to religion.

'The Tyger': Rhyme and Meter

The poem consists of rhyming couplets that give it a chant-like quality. The rhyme scheme is AABB. The first and last stanzas are similar, with minor changes in punctuation: the word 'could' in the first stanza is replaced by 'Dare' in the last - this suggests wonder and amazement at the form of the tiger. At first, the speaker is bewildered and questions the ability of God to create a creature such as a tiger. However, as one reads the poem, the speaker's tone grows cautious and fearful, as they finally question the daring and intent behind the creation of the tiger.

The meter of the poem is the trochaic tetrameter catalectic.

Those are three big words that we can break down. Trochee is a foot that contains two syllables, with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. In this sense, it is the opposite of the iamb, the most commonly used foot in poetry. Examples of trochee are: garden; never; raven; poet. The tetrameter bit simply means that the trochee is repeated four times in a line. Catalectic is a word that refers to a metrically incomplete line.

In the following line from the poem, we can examine all of these features:

What the/ hand, dare/ seize the/ fire?

Note that the final syllable is stressed and the meter is incomplete. This almost perfect trochaic tetrameter with a catalectic feature is unsettling - a deliberate decision made by the poet to disrupt the rhythm.

'The Tyger': Literary and Poetic Devices

Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor is, quite simply, a metaphor that runs through the text, and is not restricted to a line or two....and what is a metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech where an idea or an object is substituted for another to hint at a connection between the two. The metaphor adds a layer of meaning to the text.

In the poem, 'The Tyger', the notion of the 'Creator' or 'God' as a blacksmith runs throughout the poem and is made explicit in lines 9, 13, 14, and 15. The speaker's inquiry concerning the creation of the tiger, and the bravery in creating a fearsome creature like the tiger, is repeatedly raised in the poem. The comparison of the 'Creator' to a blacksmith, although implicit otherwise, is made obvious in stanza 4, particularly when the poet uses symbols of the smithy tools to emphasise the strength and danger of 'forging' something as dangerous as a tiger.

The use of 'forge' here is a pun, ie. it carries a double meaning. To forge something means to create something, and the 'forge' is also the extremely hot furnace in a smithy, where the blacksmith 'forges' hot metal. This double meaning is particularly interesting when combined with the 'fire' of the tiger's eyes and of the tiger 'burning bright' in the night forest.

End Rhyme

The end rhyme of each line in the poem lends it a chant-like, eerie quality. The chanting tone also evokes the notion of religious hymns and contributes to the theme of religion in the poem.

Alliteration

Alliteration refers to the repetition of certain sounds and stressed syllables, mostly used to add emphasis and also sonic pleasure when the poem is read out loud.

As an exercise, identify the lines that employ alliteration in the poem, for example: 'burning bright' repeats the 'b' sound. This too, like the end rhyme, adds a chant-like quality to the poem's tone.

Refrain

Refrain refers to words, lines or phrases repeated within a poem

In the poem, certain lines or words are repeated - this is usually done to add emphasis or to underline certain aspects of the poem. For example, what does the repetition of the word 'Tyger' do for the poem? It emphasises the reverent and fearsome tone of the speaker when observing the tiger. The repetition of the first stanza with a subtle change emphasizes the speakers disbelief and awe at the form of the tiger while also noting the difference or the transition from the speaker's acknowledgement of the bravery or daring required to create the Tiger.

Symbolism

The main symbols in the poem are as follows:

  1. The Tyger: The tiger refers to the creature, but also stands for the ability of God to create fearsome, dangerous things. The poet uses the tiger to hint at numerous aspects such as divinity, inspiration or muse for artists, sublimity and beauty, power and mystery. As an exercise, note down the lines which attribute an adjective or description to the tiger in the poem and try to identify which abstract qualities each of these hint at. For example, the speaker mentions the eyes of the tiger and the fire within them. This, while giving an aesthetic description of the tiger's eyes, also describes the sight or the power of the tiger's sight.
  2. The Creator or the Blacksmith: As discussed previously, the creator or the blacksmith is yet another mystery in the poem, as the speaker inquires after the intent and daring of the creator of the tiger. The metaphor of the blacksmith adds to the danger and hardwork and strength that goes into the creation of the tiger.
  3. Fire: Fire or the notion of something 'fiery' is repeatedly evoked in the poem. Fire, as a mythologized concept, features in numerous religious stories, such as when Prometheus stole fire and gifted it to mankind for progress. Fire in 'The Tyger' is also an extended metaphor related to the blacksmith as well as the tiger, since fire seems to be the source of the tiger's ferocity and also its creation.
  4. The Lamb: The lamb, although mentioned only once in line 20, is a crucial symbol in the poem as well as in Christianity. The lamb is often seen as a symbol of the Christ, and is associated with gentleness, innocence and kindness. 'The Lamb' is a poem in William Blake's Songs of Innocence and is often seen as the binary opposition to 'The Tyger'. It is noteworthy that despite the lamb's religious connotation and comparison to Christ, the tiger is not substituted for the devil or the anti-christ. Instead, both the creatures are used to reflect on God and religion which makes them a crucial theme in both poems.

'The Tyger': Key Themes

The main themes of the poem 'The Tyger' are:

Religion

As previously discussed, religion is an important theme in the poem 'The Tyger'. Religion played a significant role in the life of people in the 18th and 19th century, and the Church was a powerful institution. While against organized religion, William Blake conformed to Christian beliefs, and explored the absolute supremacy of God. The poem nods to the notion of Divine Will as well as daring to question God. The speaker also challenges the bravery and might of God by questioning who dares create a creature as ferocious as the tiger. In this sense, the poet thus questions Christian beliefs rather than blindly following them.

Sense of wonder and awe

The speaker expresses many emotions as the poem progresses, dominant among which is the sense of wonder and awe. The speaker is amazed at the existence of a creature such as the tiger, and expresses amazement at its various qualities. It is in awe of something so majestic, magnificent and ferocious. As the poem progresses, the speaker's awe and amazement magnify, with the speaker eventually wondering at the bravery and daring of that which created the tiger.

Creation

The power of creation, as well as the daring and intent behind it, is addressed in the poem. The speaker inquires as to what kind of hand and mind would be behind the forging of a creature as powerful as the tiger. The speaker also contemplates on the creation of the lamb and wonders if the same powerful creator created both the tiger and the lamb, and marvels at the knowledge and skill one possesses to do so.

'The Tyger' - Key takeaways

  • The poem is about the tiger, which the speaker characterises with ferocity, mystery and majesty.

  • The poem is full of literary and poetic devices, among which the most important are the extended metaphor, refrain, alliteration, and symbolism.

  • The main symbols of the poem are the tiger, the Creator or Blacksmith, fire and the lamb.

  • The poems 'The Tyger' and 'The Lamb' are in binary opposition. The message of 'The Tyger' and 'The Lamb' is to challenge Christian beliefs and explore the notions of Divine Knowledge and Divine Will.

  • The main themes of the poem 'The Tyger' are religion, a sense of wonder and awe, and the power of creation.

  • The tone of the poem is contemplative, which later transforms into amazement and wonder.

The Tyger

The poems The Tyger and The Lamb are in binary opposition. The two creatures stand in great contrast based on their various attributes, which are compared. The message of The Tyger and The Lamb is to challenge Christian beliefs and explore the notions of Divine Knowledge and Divine Will.

The poem The Tyger is about the daring and intent behind creating a creature such as the tiger.

The tone of the poem is contemplative, which later transforms into amazement and wonder.

The poem, The Tyger expresses the speaker's amazement at the creation of a magnificent, majestic and mighty creature like the tiger. In doing so, it challenges Christian beliefs.

The tiger in the poem The Tyger is a symbol of might, ferocity, majesty, divine creation, artistic prowess and the power of knowledge and skills.

Final The Tyger Quiz

Question

Which collection does the poem The Tyger belong to?

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Answer

Songs of Experience

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Question

Who is the poet of The Tyger?

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Answer

William Blake

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Question

In what year was The Tyger published?

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Answer

1794

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Question

Which of the following is a metaphor found in The Tyger?

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Answer

God as a blacksmith

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Question

What is the meter of The Tyger?

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Answer

Trochaic tetrameter catalectic

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a theme of The Tyger?

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Answer

Love

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Question

Which poem is seen as the counterpart of The Tyger?

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Answer

The Lamb

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Question

What is the rhyme scheme of the poem The Tyger?

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Answer

AABB

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Question

Which of these is NOT a symbol in The Tyger?

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Answer

Forest

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Question

What is the tone of the speaker?

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Answer

Amazement

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