Describe the summary of the poem "The Tyger" in detail.

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rareynolds's profile pic

rareynolds | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Essentially, the poet (or speaker of the poem) is posing a question: who could have created a beast as terrifying as the tiger? The language of the poem, however, creates a dreamlike symbolic backdrop for this question that is hard to explain definitively. In other words, you can say that the poem poses a question, but the poem means a lot more.

If we look at the poem more closely, perhaps we can see how meaning and symbol interact in this poem. The first stanza begins,

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night....

Here the poet is either addressing the tiger directly or imaginatively calling forth the image of the tiger. Either way, the word "burning" might refer to the tiger's bright color, but the image of the tiger on fire is something you might expect to see in hell. Similarly, the phrase "forests of the night" calls to mind an image of a dark forest illuminated by the terrible light of the tiger. It also suggests (perhaps) a kind of internal "forest," a place of mental or moral confusion. Either way, a forest at night is a place where people get lost and are potential prey for wild animals. It is a beautiful yet terrifying image.

What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

This is the central question of the poem. Simply put, it means, "How could God create such a terrible thing?" The question also inverts the standard notion that beauty and goodness coincide. The "symmetry" of the tiger (symmetry usually being associated with beauty) is not good but "fearful." The implication is that this terror is part of God's "symmetry," the divine plan for creation. Additionally, the way the question is posed suggests a kind of challenge to God: the poet is essentially saying, "What sort of God could have done this?"

The next three stanzas essentially ask the same question over and over in different ways. The first two lines of the second stanza read,

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

The speaker asks where in heaven could God have found the inspiration for the fire in "thine" (the tiger's) eyes? Each question is a variation on this theme. These questions express a kind of heretical accusation toward God but also can be understood to pose questions about the nature of artistic inspiration (like where do crazy poems like this one come from?) and the act of physical creation. There is a sense in which Blake conflates God and artist—both are creators.

On what wings dare he [God/Poet] aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

"Fire" could be understood as the fire of the burning tiger, but it also refers to the fire of the forge, referenced later in the poem.

And what shoulder [of God], & what art [skill or technique]
Could twist the sinews of thy [the tiger's] heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet? [the hands and feet of God]

Blake's conception of God is strikingly physical. In fact, he imagines him as a blacksmith. This is made explicit in the next stanza:

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

God-as-blacksmith is a potent and complicated image. On one hand, there is a sense that Blake is admiring the terrible handiwork of God as master craftsman. On the other, the potent sensory details here, of God's hammer pounding out the tiger's body on a divine anvil, or God forging the tiger's brain in a divine "furnace," suggest a kind of hellish scene, even though God is supposed to be the king of heaven! Critics have also remarked on how these industrial images suggest an indictment of the Industrial Revolution, which was transforming England at the time of this poem's publication. Seen in this light, the tiger might mean England's terrible economic might. This surprising image of a hellish God making terrible creatures is explicitly called out in the next stanza:

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?

In other words, heaven was so shocked by the creation of the tiger that the stars themselves revolted. The speaker wonders if God took a secret delight in creating this monster.

That last question ("Did he who made the Lamb make thee?") refers both to Christ (the "lamb of God") and Blake's own poem "The Lamb," which celebrates the innocent purity of the lamb. This question rephrases the question from the very beginning of the poem in a more direct and pointed way. How could the same person who made the lamb also make the tiger? Or, to put it another way, how can the same God who makes goodness and purity possibly also create death, destruction, and sin?

The final stanza repeats the first (maybe another kind of "fearful symmetry"?) with the crucial change of one word; instead of "could frame thy fearful symmetry," the speaker says "dare frame thy fearful symmetry." This change signals that the poet, as a result of these reflections, has come to a conclusion: the creator of the tiger perhaps violated his own rules or plan, and this is a kind of betrayal, both of the poet and also of creation. How "dare" God do it?

kc4u's profile pic

kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Blake's poem The Tyger begins with the amazement of a vision, an apocalyptic beast 'burning bright' in the bordering darkness: nocturnal darkness presented metaphorically as 'forests of the night'. Obviously, this is no familiar tiger in the natural habitat of forests; this is a visionary tiger as burning fire in the darkness as an absolute principle. The vision leads the poet to an assumption of the mystery of its maker, for the maker is best understood in terms of the thing made:

"What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Blake's tiger symbolises 'Experience', as the lamb in his other poem symbolises 'Innocence'. The animal juxtaposes the opposites as the oxymoronical phrase 'fearful symmetry' suggests. Who could be the maker of such a ferocious but beautiful beast? The poet refers to his 'immortal hand or eye', that is to say, an immortal maker.

The question relating to the maker now gives rise to many more questions in stanza 2: wherefrom the maker procures the fire--from the depths of the underworld, or from the heights of the skies? In either case, the maker must have had wings to delve into the 'distant deeps', or to soar high up to heaven. The maker must be a daring aspirant who has 'the hand' to 'seize the fire', may be, like Icarus or Prometheus in Greek mythology.

Stanza 3 again posits questions relating to the creature and its creator. Since the huge beast has had a big and bold heart made up of strong muscles, its creator must also be strong-shouldered, and must have known the art of making the strange animal. The poet further apprehends how life was put into the tiger's heart set it to motion:

"And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? and what dread feet?"

With a new set of questions, stanza 4 further dwells on the making of the tiger as something stupendous, built in the workshop of a legendary blacksmith:

"What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?"

Stanza 5 shows an attempt on the part of the poet to locate the making of the tiger in cosmic time and space. Blake imagines that the tiger was made at a moment of crisis when the rebel angels in heaven surrendered their weapons before God as God applied thunderbolt. The stars extinguishing their lights symbolise the thunder-struck angels shedding tears:

"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?"

The pair of questions in the closing lines of stanza 5 seems to have challenged the idea of a benign creator. The maker of the lamb is Himself 'the Lamb of God', meek and mild, representing the 'forgiveness of sins'. But how can such a maker create the terrible tiger? The maker of the fierce & fiery beast must be the other self of God, wrathful & cruel, representing 'the punishment of sins'

Stanza 6 is almost identical with the opening stanza, with the exception of 'dare' in the beginning of the last line. The change from 'could' to 'dare' suggests the completion of the making of the tiger.