The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Tyger” is a short lyric poem of twenty-four lines that asks, without giving explicit answers, how an all-perfect God responsible for innocence and goodness can be the creator of violence and evil. Its questions are unanswerable, for they search a realm altogether beyond human understanding. Divine creation occurs outside time and place through a being who is, by definition, incomprehensible and worthy of the childlike wonder expressed by the poem’s speaker before the terrible beauty of a dark, alien reality.

That William Blake envisioned all reality as a duality of light and dark, peace and violence, good and evil, and innocence and experience is indicated by the full title of the volume in which “The Tyger” appeared: Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. According to Blake’s private mythology, the ideal is an artistically and imaginatively unified humanity (or cosmos) harmonizing the contraries, which, in this volume of his poetry, are split into psychological realms of innocence (vulnerable to victimization by a stifling adult world) and of experience (a fallen world of suffering, evil, and division). Thus, instead of an integrated primal human being, there is in this volume a poem of innocence entitled “The Lamb” juxtaposed to its contrary, “The Tyger,” arguably the greatest and most cryptic lyric poem in Blake’s entire literary canon.

The poem begins...

(The entire section is 567 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Tyger” consists of six quatrains, each with couplet rhymes and a rapid singsong meter of three trochaics and one stressed sound in every line (“Týgr! Týgr! búrnǐng bríght”). Consonance and assonance are pronounced, especially in the repetition of s and long i sounds throughout the poem. The complex sound system has the incantatory effect of a visionary nursery rhyme, with a childlike speaker probing very adult questions about the ultimate meaning of what remains the mystery of reality.

Like other songs of innocence and experience, “The Tyger” is a miracle of compressed metaphor, word usage, and symbol that explode into a multiple suggestiveness helping the poem attempt to perform the impossible, to apprehend the ineffable, and to rest in wonder before the inscrutable spectacle of a Creator of contraries, of unity supreme over dualities and contradictions.

Compressed metaphors equate the Creator to a blacksmith (lines 13-16) and equate the creation of the tiger to the reckless daring of archetypal rebels such as Satan and Daedalus, who stormed the heavens on wings, or Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give light and warmth to the human race (lines 7-8). Compressed word usage (in, for example, line 10) generates the double meaning of a Creator fashioning a heart out of twisted sinew and knotting up the heart to produce pent-up energy in the tiger. Blake’s ellipsis (the deletion of words to the...

(The entire section is 460 words.)