The Tyger Summary
“The Tyger,” from Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794), is probably William Blake’s most famous poem. Its meaning is not easy to ascertain, and it has provoked a wide range of interpretations.
- The poem consists of six quatrains, each of which asks at least one question about the nature of the tiger’s creator. None of the questions are answered.
- The central question of the whole poem appears in the fifth quatrain: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
- The lamb and the tiger represent two distinct aspects of Creation, the mild and gentle, and the fierce and destructive.
Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 641
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker sees a tiger "burning bright" in the "forests" of the night. The imagery of "forests" (not a single forest) and the repetition of the word "tyger" suggests that the speaker is describing not one particular tiger in a particular setting but all tigers. The phrase "forests of the night" suggests too a symbolic forest of darkness, conjuring not just physical forests at nighttime but also dark forests as symbolic places of mystery and evil.
It's hard to visualize exactly what the speaker sees in the first stanza when he describes the tiger "burning bright." The tiger is clearly not literally on fire. Is it his yellow eyes that seem to burn bright? Or can the tiger himself, with his yellow fur, be discerned as a bright object against the blackness of night? Just as we seem to be addressing all tigers, the imagery appears to be symbolic. But we are still left with ambiguity: does the darkness symbolize evil? Do the dark forests symbolize being lost just as humankind is "lost" after the fall until it begins to be gathered up by the Good Shepherd of Christ? And if so, is the tiger then a burning emblem of the fall, or does the brightness symbolize some vestige of the creative good that remains as a contrast to the fall?
At the end of the first stanza, Blake asks a question that will continue throughout the poem. He questions what kind of God could create such a creature of "fearful symmetry [beauty]."
In the second stanza, the speaker does, seemingly, clear up the question of what burns bright: it is the fire in the tiger's eyes. But the speaker is nevertheless confused: what god could be daring or audacious enough to create such a dangerous creature?
The third stanza continues to raise questions of origin. Continuing to directly address the tiger, the speaker still wonders, in the first place, who "twist[ed] the sinews of thy [your] heart," as if the tiger was created by a blacksmith.
The imagery of the blacksmith forging the tiger species continues in stanza four, as the speaker describes a hammer, an anvil, and the "furnace" of the "brain." For Blake's audience, steeped in classical literature, this almost inevitably would conjure images of the Roman god Vulcan, the blacksmith metal-forger of mythology. Vulcan is connected with volcanoes and molten metal and is a figure symbolizing both the destructive potential of a burning fire and its creative power. The sense of fear grows in the speaker's mind as he uses words such as "dread" and "deadly terrors." His fear seems to reach a crescendo in this central stanza, as indicated by the exclamation point, as he thinks about the powerful form of the tiger and tries to understand who would create it.
The fifth stanza connects the creation of the tiger with the heavens raining down violence ("spears") and sorrow ("tears") on the earth, which may correspond to the Biblical fall of mankind. The imagery becomes explicitly Christian in the last line when the speaker asks if the same god "who made the Lamb make thee?" The speaker reaches to understand a central paradox: how could a good God create both predatory power and the gentle, loving power of the lamb (Christ) at the same time?
The final stanza exactly repeats the first, functioning both to create the nursery-rhyme form of the poem and suggesting that for all the probing questions he has raised, the speaker is no further along in finding answers. Instead, he has led his readers on a journey, inviting us to ponder the mysteries of why the world was created as it was and why it is full of paradoxes or seeming contradictions. The poem is not meant to provide answers but to stimulate thought.