What does "The Tyger" by William Blake mean?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Tyger" is a poem written by William Blake for his collection "Songs of Innocence and Experience." These poems support Blake's conviction that "without contraries there is no progression." The "Songs of Innocence" contrast with the "Songs of Experience"; only by understanding each of the contraries can one arrive at a full understanding, according to Blake's view. Therefore, to understand the meaning of "The Tyger," you must read and understand its companion poem, which is "The Lamb." "The Lamb" presents God as a loving Creator who is "meek and mild," "became a little child," and sacrificed himself as the Lamb of God. 

"The Tyger," on the other hand, presents God as an inscrutable, distant, almost mechanical force that created a dangerous and deadly animal, the tiger, and unleashed it upon the world. The poem's series of rhetorical questions spur the reader to question the traditional view of God as loving and gentle toward mankind. It does not accuse God of being evil, but it poses some questions about the Creator's motivations in making the tiger, which can represent calamity and misfortune. 

Taking the two poems as a pair, then, you can see that "The Tyger" lays out the question that people of faith still struggle with. If God is a loving Creator, how can he allow such bad things to happen in the world? As soon as that question is posed, a contrary appears, namely that God makes good things happen, as well, and in fact he became a man and sacrificed himself (as a "Lamb") to redeem a fallen world. These two contraries may be impossible to reconcile, but by considering both, there is "progression" of thought, and perhaps even of faith.