"The Tyger" is a poem by the English poet William Blake published in 1794 as part of the Songs of Experience collection. 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." It is one of Blake's most reinterpreted and arranged works.
The Songs of Experience was published in 1794 as a follow up to Blake's 1789 Songs of Innocence. The two books were 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 illustrations are arranged differently in some copies, while a number of poems were moved from Songs of Innocence to Songs of Experience. Blake continued to print the work throughout his life. Of the copies of the original collection, only 28 published during his life are known to exist, with an additional 16 published posthumously. Only 5 of the poems from Songs of Experience appeared individually before 1839.
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 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 first and last stanzas are identical except the word "could" becomes "dare" in the second iteration. Kazin says to begin to wonder about the tiger, and its nature, can only lead to a daring to wonder about it. Blake achieves great power through the use of alliteration ("frame" and "fearful") combined with imagery, (burning, fire, eyes), and he structures the poem to ring with incessant repetitive questioning, demanding of the creature, "Who made thee?" In the third stanza the focus moves from the tiger, the creation, to the creator – of whom Blake wonders "What dread hand? & what dread feet?". "The Tyger" is six stanzas in length, each stanza four lines long. Much of the poem follows the metrical pattern of its first line and can be scanned as trochaic tetrameter catalectic. A number of lines, however, such as line four in the first stanza, fall into iambic tetrameter.
"The Tyger" lacks narrative movement. The first stanza opens the central question, "What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" Here the direct address to the creature becomes most obvious, but certainly, "the Tyger" cannot provide the lyrical "I" with a satisfactory answer, so the contemplation continues. The second stanza questions "the Tyger" about where he was created; the third about how the creator formed him; the fourth about what tools were used. In the fifth stanza, Blake wonders how the creator reacted to "the Tyger," and who created the creature. Finally, the sixth restates the central question while raising the stakes; rather than merely question what/who "could" create the Tyger, the speaker wonders: who dares.
Themes and critical analysis
"The Tyger" is the sister poem to "The Lamb" (from "Songs of Innocence"), a reflection of similar ideas from a different perspective (Blake's concept of "contraries"), with "The Lamb" bringing attention to innocence. "The Tyger" presents a duality between aesthetic beauty and primal ferocity, and Blake believes that to see one, the hand that created "The Lamb", one must also see the other, the hand that created "The Tyger”: "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"
The "Songs of Experience" were written as a contrary to the "Songs of Innocence" – a central tenet in Blake's philosophy, and central theme in his work. The struggle of humanity is based on the concept of the contrary nature of things, Blake believed, and thus, to achieve truth one must see the contraries in innocence and experience. Experience is not the face of evil but rather another facet of that which created us. Kazin says of Blake, "Never is he more heretical than ... where he glories in the hammer and fire out of which are struck ... the Tyger". Rather than believing in war between good and evil or heaven and hell, Blake thought each man must first see and then resolve the contraries of existence and life. In "The Tyger," he presents a poem of "triumphant human awareness," and "a hymn to pure being," according to Kazin.
- Rebecca Clarke – "The Tiger" (1929–33)
- Benjamin Britten, in his song cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1965)
- Greg Brown (folk musician), in his album "Songs of Innocence and of Experience (Greg Brown album)" (1986)
- John Tavener – "The Tyger" (1987)
- Tangerine Dream – "Tyger" (1987)
- Jah Wobble – "Tyger Tyger" (1996)
- Kenneth Fuchs – Songs of Innocence and of Experience, (Four Poems by William Blake for Baritone, Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Harp) (completed 2006)
- Cosimo Zaccaria/Adov Carillon - The Tyger by William Blake (2011)
- Herbst in Peking – "The Tyger & the Fly" (2014)
- Qntal – "Tyger" (2014)
- Bentley, G. E. (editor) William Blake: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1975.
- Bentley, G. E. Jr. The Stranger From Paradise. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-300-10030-2
- Damon, S. Foster. A Blake Dictionary. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1988.
- Davis, Michael. William Blake: A New Kind of Man. University of California Press, 1977.
- Eaves, Morris. The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, 2003. ISBN 978-0-521-78677-5
- Gilchrist, Alexander. The Life of William Blake. London: John Lane Company, 1907.
- Kazin, Alfred. "Introduction". The Portable Blake. The Viking Portable Library.
- Whitson, Roger and Jason Whittaker. William Blake and Digital Humanities:Collaboration, Participation, and Social Media. New York: Routledge, 2013. ISBN 978-0415-65618-4.
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- A Comparison of Different Versions of Blake's Printing of the The Tyger at the William Blake Archive
- The Taoing of a Sound – Phonetic Drama in William Blake’s The Tyger Detailed stylistic analysis of the poem by linguist Haj Ross