What is the theme of the poem "The Tyger" by William Blake? 

The main theme of William Blake's poem "The Tyger" is creation and origin. The speaker is in awe of the fearsome qualities and raw beauty of the tiger, and he rhetorically wonders whether the same creator could have also made "the Lamb" (a reference to another of Blake's poems). He wonders where such qualities come from and meditates on the role of experience and knowledge in creating powerful forces, including those that are dangerous or evil.

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In writing "The Tyger," William Blake wanted to express the organic connection between ourselves and the natural environment. When Blake wrote the poem, Britain was experiencing a great deal of economic and social change with the Industrial Revolution in full swing. During this time, people became disconnected from the natural world, especially those rural-dwellers who left the countryside to seek work in the burgeoning industrial towns and cities.

The arresting figure of the tiger is a reminder of what we have lost in the onward rise towards industrialization. Blake wants us to reconnect to the wonders of nature, to experience awe in the face of God's creation. All creatures, whether fearsome predators like the tiger or gentle creatures like the lamb, share the same creator, as indeed do we.

Yet all too often we separate ourselves from creation, arrogantly asserting ourselves over against the world. In other words, we have lost that primal sense of awe which our ancestors once had towards the natural world and every living thing in it. Indeed for Blake, nature itself is a living force, a force that is worthy of worship and respect. But we can only adopt the appropriate attitude towards nature if we see ourselves as an essential part of it.

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One possible interpretation of William Blake's "The Tyger" is that the eponymous tiger represents the spirit of the industrialization process that Britain was witnessing at the time the poem was written. The factories at the heart of this process would remain open twenty-four hours a day, and the lights of the burning furnaces seen through the windows of the factories at night may have resembled the orange and black stripes of a tiger.

Throughout the poem, the speaker seems to be asking what can be inferred about men—or about God—that this "fearful" and "deadly" process is allowed to happen. Indeed, the speaker wonders "What dread hand" could possibly have created this process, and whether the God who made the lamb could also have made this tiger. He wonders too whether the God who made the tiger did "smile his work to see." These questions seem loaded with an incredulous and accusatory tone.

As a Romantic poet, William Blake would have been horrified at the industrialization process. Many Romantic poets, like Blake and Wordsworth, wrote (particularly prescient) poems to warn that this process would destroy the natural world. The collection from which this poem is taken, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, describes two different worlds. The first world, of innocence, is the world before industrialization, and the second world, of experience, is the world during industrialization. "The Tyger" is taken from the Songs of Experience section of the collection.

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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.

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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.

 

Additional Source

Kazin, Alfred. "Introduction". The Portable Blake. The Viking Portable Library.

 

 

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