Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425
"The Tyger" is a 1794 illustrated poem by Romantic poem William Blake. Consisting of six stanzas, the poem was published as part of the collection Songs of Experience (a collection of twenty-six poems conceived as a counterpoint to Songs of Innocence, which he published in 1789). Blake was a professional engraver as well as a poet, and so many of his poems are accompanied by engravings. Moreover, his verse contains a powerful visual dimension. The poet writes:
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
The poet addresses the fire in the eyes of the tiger and introduces the notion that the tiger may have been crafted in the "distant deep"—a place unknown to humans. The speaker is in awe of the tiger and, upon regarding the tiger, asks himself a series of questions concerning human existence. The reference to "fire" also works to conjure the image of the tiger's orange color. In this way, the "eye" may be seen as an example of synecdoche (a poetic device in which a part is used to represent a whole), standing in for the entire tiger.
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
In this stanza, the poet compares God with a blacksmith, forging his creations with "hammer," "furnace," and "anvil."
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Many interpret the rhetorical question in this stanza as adducing a contrast between the dual facets of God: the vengeful God (represented by the tiger) and the merciful one (represented by the lamb). This reading is supported by the fact that the lamb is commonly associated with Jesus, who is regarded as a part of the Holy Trinity. The speaker aptly notes that God, as a creator, is just as multifaceted as the conceptions of Him in the Old and New Testaments.
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
The final stanza, echoing the first, confirms how much the speaker reveres the creature by means of a repeated rhetorical question. The speaker admires the tiger's ferocity, and this very ferocity is a testament both to the power of the natural world that the tiger represents as well as the creator that made him.