Pages 9 (2173 words)
Tyger Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
-These first lines set up to whom the poem is addressed: the “Tyger.”
-It begins with the repetition of the name (“Tyger, tyger”). The repetition creates a chant-like mood to the whole poem, which contributes to the mysteriousness. Reading it, you can’t help but get the feeling this poem is about way more than the biggest cat in the world.
-What is this about “burning bright, / In the forests of the night”? Tigers don’t burn.
When you see crazy or unexpected metaphors like this – which always happens with Blake – slow down and chew on them for a minute.
-“Burning bright” may describe the appearance of the Tyger (tigers have fiery orange fur), or it may on a deeper level describe a kind of energy or power that this Tyger has.
-The Tyger’s presence in “the forests of the night” further increases the mystery and power of the creature – it’s elusive, while at the same time burning with some sort of inner force.
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
-These lines introduce the central question of the poem: what “immortal” being or force is able to contain or produce the Tyger’s sublime form? Big stuff, we know.
-The “immortal hand or eye,” symbols of sight and creation, immediately conjure references to a creative -God (in pretty much all cases with Blake, “God” refers to the Christian God). If this is so, then questioning whether God could do anything is a direct attack on the omnipotence of such a God.
-To “frame,” here, is probably to contain, kind of like putting a picture in a frame. When you frame something, the boundaries are clear, the object isn’t going anywhere.
-“Fearful symmetry,” is a very nuanced quality to have. “Fearful” references the scariness of a tiger, but also alludes to the sublime. The sublime is an old notion of really big, powerful, mysterious stuff that terrifies us because it’s big, powerful and mysterious. -The first BIG example that should come to mind: God, or the divine (that stuff is big and powerful and mysterious).
-Symmetry is a classical quality of the divine, as well as the defining factor of artistic beauty.
So, there are lots of doors open with the first stanza. Just hold on, it’ll be OK. If there is one thing Blake does, it’s open doors, but it can be hard to keep track of where each one might lead as you read through the poem.
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
-These lines ask where the Tyger was created, and also add to the growing image the reader has of the Tyger.
-The use of “distant deeps or skies” seems to refer to an otherworldly (“distant”) place, perhaps a kind of Hell (“deeps”) or Heaven (“skies”).
-The metaphor of “burning” from line 1 returns with the burning “fire” of the Tyger’s eyes, adding to the power and fearfulness of the image.
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
-These lines are where a lot of people just totally get knocked off the tracks.
-Who the heck is “he”? It may be God, it may be the poet, it may be the artist, it’s unclear – what “he” is for sure, is the creator of this Tyger. The Tyger – that we know is a big, powerful, mysterious thing – must have a pretty big, powerful, mysterious creator.
-The “hand” returns from line 3 as well as “fire,” and the image of flying on wings is added, alluding to supernatural power, but not necessarily a divine one.
-Also, the notion of daring is introduced, which will be echoed in the last 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?
-This stanza continues the questioning of who/what the creator of the Tyger is (notice the “And” continues the thought from the previous stanza).
-What “shoulder” roughly means what kind of bodily strength could create the Tyger (“twist the sinews of thy heart”).
-What “art” refers to the skill that could put the Tyger all together.
-Lines 11 and 12 are more mysterious, in that they’re really vague. From earlier in the poem we know that hands and eyes frame (stanza 1), hands seize (line 8), shoulders twist (lines 9 and 10), but what do these hands and feet do after the heart begins to beat ?Whose hands and feet? Again, not sure.
-Whatever the answer, the use of “dread” increases the same big, powerful, mysterious quality known as “the sublime.”
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
-These lines further question how the Tyger was created.
-Blake uses the metaphor of the blacksmith, who forms metal with a hammer, furnace (fire), and anvil.
-The stanza is very rhythmic, adding further to the chant-like quality that we talked about in lines 1-2.
-We also get the sense that the pace and volume is picking up, since the questions are now coming faster and Blake uses his first exclamation point.
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?
-These lines are the most clearly “Christian” of the poem.
-Lines 17 and 18 are a bit ambiguous, and may refer to the casting down of the angels after Satan rebelled against God (see Paradise Lost).
-The same “he” reappears here as in line 7, but in a much more Christian setting, more closely referencing God than the other stanza.
-The “Lamb” is a traditional Christian symbol for Jesus Christ (who was “made” by God, though that is a big can of worms). It also refers back to Blake’s poem “The Lamb” in Songs of Innocence (see “In a Nutshell” for more on “The Lamb”).
Tyger Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
-The final stanza echoes the first, but why?
-Along with the rhyming and chant-like rhythm, the repetition may be like a refrain, like song’s chorus.
-The repetition is also a very clever device to get us to notice the one change that is made to the stanza: “could” is switched to “dare.”
-Now, instead of questioning the ability of the creator, Blake questions his nerve. Like when you triple-dog dare someone, Blake seems to challenge the courage of whatever/whoever tried or tries to contain (“frame”) the big, powerful, mysteriousness of the Tyger.
The symbol of the Tyger is one of the two central mysteries of the poem (the other being the Tyger’s creator). It is unclear what it exactly symbolizes, but scholars have hypothesized that the Tyger could be inspiration, the divine, artistic creation, history, the sublime (the big, mysterious, powerful and sometimes scary. Read more on this in the “Themes and Quotes” section), or vision itself. Really, the list is almost infinite. The point is, the Tyger is important, and Blake’s poem barely limits the possibilities.
Line 7: Wings are what the creator uses to “aspire” to the creation of the Tyger. Essentially, they are the power or inspiration that allows the creator to “dare” go about the task of creating the Tyger.
smith tools (“hammer,” “chain,” “furnace ,” “anvil”)
Stanza 4: In the poem, these tools make up an extended metaphor of the creator and his creation of the Tyger. A blacksmith uses these tools to make objects out of super-hot metal. The word “forge” – to create or form – is a smith term as well as another name for a smith’s furnace. The smith reference also ties into all the fire imagery associated with the Tyger, and heightens the energy and danger of the Tyger’s creation. If you don’t think forging metal is hot or dangerous, you might want to visit even a modern-day steel mill.
Line 20: When you read the word “lamb,” always first think: symbol of Jesus Christ (“the Lamb of God”). As the tradition holds, animals such as lambs were sacrificed to God or gods in general until God offered his Son, Jesus Christ – his lamb – as the final sacrifice for the sins of mankind. In line 20, Blake references a version of Christianity that states that God created Jesus (Protestant version vs. the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity). In any case, you don’t need to know all the theology, just that it’s a reference to Jesus and an allusion to Christianity. Blake asks whether God, who created Jesus, also created the Tyger. Also, don’t forget that “The Lamb” is the title of another poem by Blake, from the Songs of Innocence; the two poems are often read together. (For more information on “The Lamb,” check out “In a Nutshell.”)
body parts (hands,eyes,shoulders,feet)
The body parts referenced in this poem – hands, eyes, shoulders, and feet – are examples of synecdoche. Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing. For example, when someone yells “All hands on deck!” he doesn’t actually mean that he wants a bunch of severed hands on the deck; rather, he wants the people and their hands to help with the ship. So, the phrase “immortal hand” references the whole being or person that the hand belongs to, while at the same time focusing on the hands as the means of creation. The eye is representative of the whole body and person, but also focuses (ha ha) our attention on the faculty of sight. Also, by including only parts of the creator in the actually poem, Blake contributes to the mystery of who or what he actually is. It’s like having only a few extreme close-ups of a person: you can see the hands, shoulder, feet, and eyes, but you can’t see the whole package, and that means you can’t even tell who you’re looking at.
The fire serves multiple purposes as an extended metaphor. First, it’s often associated with the Tyger, which contributes to the Tyger’s ferocity and sublimity (the fact it’s big, powerful, and mysterious). Fire is also a source of energy, and since the Tyger seems to be filled with fire, then he must also be filled with energy. In another sense, the fire of the smith’s furnace is the fire of creation, the means by which the Tyger was formed.
Apostrophe is when the speaker talks directly to someone who isn’t there or something that can’t actually be talked to, such as the Tyger. The whole poem is addressed to the Tyger. Can the Tyger talk? No. Does it even exist in a concrete sense? Probably not. The apostrophe helps the poet keep the subject alive and in-your-face, rather than talking about a bunch of generalities.
This poem sounds like a creepy, druidic chant. Think Stonehenge, fire, candles, darkness, and people in cloaks and hoods, chanting this poem in really deep voices. Not only does the rhythm and rhyme scheme contribute to the chant quality, but the parallelism (the repetitive usage) of the grammatical structures in the questions enhances the pulsing beat. Not only that, but the phrases become shorter and shorter through the fourth stanza, which seems to speed the reader along or raise his voice into a crescendo! If you get a classroom full of students reading this poem aloud, the classroom next door will probably get chills thinking about the strange rituals going on in first-period English. These religious undertones were surely not unintentional, and, along with the Christian images and allusions, contribute to the visionary quality of the poem.
analysis on title
The title is deceptively simple: it lets us know that the poem is about a tiger. So, we expect it to be just that, about a tiger. However, as we start reading, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this isn’t just any tiger. It probably isn’t even a tiger like you’d find in a zoo. It could be a symbol Blake uses to make a far deeper point than something like “Tigers are scary.”
It should be said right up front: don’t freak out if you don’t know what the heck is up with this whole tiger business. What does it mean? Why a tiger? Why is it “burning”? Relax, the tiger is the central mystery of a poem about mysteriousness – it’s a device – and scholars have been debating about it for 200 years. As with all of Blake’s poems, and perhaps all good poets, don’t jump to conclusions. Keep an open mind and let Blake show you a new way to think about it. Is it about a tiger? Yes, but only as much as Moby Dick is about an albino sperm whale.