Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Tyger” is about the divinity and mysterious beauty of all creation and its transcendence of the limited human perspective of good and evil that the miseries of human experience condition one to assume. Divine creation occurs outside time and place through a being who is, by definition, inscrutable and worthy of the childlike wonder expressed by the poem’s speaker. Humans see contraries and find evil awful; God created the contraries and pronounced them both beautiful.

“The Tyger” is a Blakean song of experience that is to be contrasted with its contrary song of innocence, entitled “The Lamb.” Questions also recur in “The Lamb”: “Little Lamb, who made thee?/ Dost thou know who made thee?” That poem, however, answers the questions it poses with a simple, almost pat affirmation that the Lamb of God—the Poet-Christ of the realm of innocence—became an innocent to make all humanity innocent in His own image and thereby made all those who are meek and mild worthy of God’s blessing:

He is calléd by thy name,For he calls himself a Lamb:He is meek & he is mild,He became a little child:I a child & thou a lamb,We are calléd by his name.

By contrast, “The Tyger” contains no explicit answers to ultimate questions, although some answers are implicit precisely because of the absence of answers. The mystery of reality does not lend itself to simple, pat formulations of everyday statements. If the poem “The Lamb” excludes all terror and complexity from life and finds only gentleness and mildness, then “The Tyger” rejects such simplemindedness and opposes a doubleness under a Creator of mercy and aggressiveness, peace and violence, and good and evil, all of which are subsumed in a divine beauty beyond limited human power to grasp fully as a unity. The very concept of the tiger’s “fearful symmetry” is a paradox of terrifying richness and terrible beauty that is difficult for the human imagination to apprehend—but not for the divine imagination to create.