What is the theme of the poem "The Tyger" by William Blake?
The central theme of William Blake's "The Tyger," published in his Songs of Experience collection in 1794, is the philosophical problem of evil. The problem of evil, explained here from a Christian framework, concerns the issue of reconciling the existence of evil in the world with an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and benevolent God. Stated simply, the problem asks why God would allow evil to exist in the world if he has complete control over the world and cares for our well-being.
How is this theme evoked in the poem? In the first stanza, the tiger is described as frightening and dangerous; the tiger is "burning," and resides in "forests" at "night" (1-2). In the next two lines, the poem's speaker asks what "immortal hand or eye," or divine agent, "framed thy fearful symmetry," or made the tiger so frightening in the first place.
The speaker then fears that whoever made the fearful tiger must be fearful as well; he asks "What dread hand? And what dread feet?" allowed the tiger to exist at all (12). Finally, the speaker asks, "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" (20). Since "Lamb" is capitalized, the speaker here refers not only to a young sheep, but also to the "Lamb of God:" Jesus Christ. The speaker finally realizes that God himself must have made the tiger and thereby allowed evil to exist in the world. The last stanza's refrain implies that the speaker is horrified by this epiphany and is unable to continue his line of thought. Through juxtaposing the images of the tiger and "the Lamb" then, Blake explores the philosophical problem of evil.
William Blake's poem "The Tyger," written much like a metaphysical conceit, has as its theme the mysteries of God's creations.
It is a God who is inscrutable to man that has created such a being as a tiger, for in man's limited knowledge, God is all-good. Thus, in the awareness that his knowledge is limited, the speaker wonders in a series of rhetorical questions about the mysteries of good and evil. For instance, he asks the tiger,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Perhaps, it is only man who has defined good and evil in the context of what he knows. Or, is evil, perhaps, named only by man so that he can recognize good in its contrast since his powers of cognition are not that of the Creator's? Clearly, Blake's poem demonstrates his belief that man must witness, examine, and resolve the apparent paradoxes of life. Critic Alfred Kazin writes of Blake,
In "The Tyger," he presents a poem of triumphant human
awareness, and a hymn to pure being.
Kazin, Alfred. "Introduction". The Portable Blake. The Viking Portable Library.