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What is the universal theme of Blake's "The Tyger"?

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A poem about the nature of divine creation, Blake's "The Tyger" investigates the notion of creative intent and inspiration in a rather original religious context. The poem also invites us to consider what it is, exactly, that the tyger symbolizes - what significance do we find in the tyger as a counterpart to the lamb?

Perhaps the most telling line of Blake's "The Tyger" comes at the end of the fifth stanza: "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"

“'The Tyger' is a Blakean song of experience that is to be contrasted with its contrary song of innocence, entitled 'The Lamb.' Questions also recur in 'The Lamb': 'Little Lamb, who made thee?/ Dost thou know who made thee?'” (eNotes).

Blake's poem poses a series of questions that appear direct yet which are not easily answered. How are we to understand or envision a creative force that is manifested in the form of a terrifying beast? 

"'The Tyger' is about the divinity and mysterious beauty of all creation and its transcendence of the limited human perspective of good and evil that the miseries of human experience condition one to assume" (eNotes).

Importantly, Blake's poem invites us to reflect on the limits of our own perspectives and our own moral vision. We might read "The Tyger" as being about both divine creation and artistic creation, about a cosmic will and about human will as well. 

The poet who penned "The Lamb" also created "The Tyger." Seen in this light, Blake's questions take on a rhetorical significance within the poems themselves, referring to his own creative process even while the poems also touch on notions of the nature of divine creation.

One way to rephrase Blake's questions in "The Tyger" is to ask what aspects of divine will are reflected in the tyger? If the tyger is a product of a divine creative force, what does that say about the nature of the divine creative force?

Reality, for William Blake, is something that supercedes simple moral categories. 

"The mystery of reality does not lend itself to simple, pat formulations of everyday statements" (eNotes).

In his metaphysics, the energetic forces of life (which include creativity, art, and greater passions too) cannot be honestly held back by the arbitrary constraints of religious doctrine. The "mind-forged manacles" of categorical social thought function as illusory, ideological distortions of a larger, clearer truth.

Blake's "The Tyger" leads us to ask whether or not the lamb and the tyger really are so different after all. If they are both manifestations of the same creative force, might it be best and most accurate to see them for their similarities instead of focusing on their differences?

As symbols, these two animals superficially seem to represent two different sets of ideas. Yet Blake's poetry, taken as a whole, suggests that this is only a superficial symbolic difference and that in a final account the tyger and the lamb represent exactly the same thing.  

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One theme central to Blake's "The Tyger" is the identity of God or the Creator.  The speaker asks what kind of creator would create a tiger?  What kind of creator would form such a powerful and destructive creature?

When read in contrast with "The Lamb," which is the partner poem of "The Tyger," the poem suggests that no dichotomy or separation exists between good and evil, between gentle and fierce.  The Creator is a mixture of the two, as are natural creatures and human beings.  The same Creator that made the lamb made the tiger.

Tyger!  Tyger!  burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The answer is a Creator or Immortal who is a mixture of all.  He creates the tiger the same as he creates the lamb.  Evil is not evil, as we normally think of it.  It is just another side of good.  That idea is certainly "universal."

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