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:
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.
IN the..|..FOR ests..|..OF the..|..NIGHT
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.
(line 1); frame
symmetry? (line 4)
Tiger: Evil (or
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:
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
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
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 his handiwork.