How does the poem "The Tyger" by William Blake relate to creation?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Blake was a very religious man and apparently a strict fundamentalist who believed that every word of the story of creation in Genesis in the Old Testament is literally true. Many people still believe that today. Some call themselves "Creationists." Their opponents are often called "Darwinians." If the biblical story of creation is literally true, then what must God be like to have created some of the beautiful and ugly, good and bad, innocent and malevolent things He created? Blake's entire poem seems to be speculating about what God must be like if He would want to create such a creature as a tiger. The essence of the poem is in the identical stanza at the beginning and the end.

Tyger, tyger, burning bright,
In the forest of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The tiger is both beautiful and wonderfully formed, and at the same time it is a terrible, ferocious creature that lives by killing. The splendid animal with its sinuous body seems to be stalking back and forth behind the lines of words in the poem. Its horizontal stripes sometimes hide it behind the lines of words, but it reappears between the stanzas, still stalking its prey.

If God created the tiger when he was creating everything else that exists, then what must He have been thinking? The same question applies to everything in the universe, if we believe the story of creation told in Genesis. God created spiders, rats, snakes (of course), diseases, human suffering of all kinds, human cruelty, death, war, earthquakes, tidal waves, droughts, plagues, all kinds of catastrophes. At the same time, God created incredible beauty throughout our world--beautiful flowers, beautiful landscapes, beautiful stars, clouds, trees, oceans, waterfalls--and many beautiful men, women and children. 

"The Tyger" is one of Blake's "Songs of Experience." He dwells on the same idea from a different perspective in "The Lamb," which is one of his "Songs of Innocence." In "The Tyger" Blake asks the question which seems to haunt him (and which haunts many people today who are trying to reconcile science and traditional religion). Addressing the tiger he has described as so lethal and terrifying, and yet so fascinating, Blake asks: Did He who made the lamb make thee? The little lamb is the exact opposite of the sinister tiger. How could God create both creatures? What kind of a being is He? 

Little lamb, who made thee?
Does thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Does thou know who made thee?

Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is callèd by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are callèd by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!

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