TIGER, tiger, burning bright a
In the forests of the night, a
What immortal hand or eye a
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? -
In what distant deeps or skies b
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? b
On what wings dare he aspire? c
What the hand dare seize the fire? c
And what shoulder and what art d
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? d
And when thy heart began to beat, e
What dread hand and what dread feet? e
What the hammer? What the chain? f
In what furnace was thy brain? f
What the anvil? What dread grasp? g
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? g
When the stars threw down their spears, h
And water’d heaven with their tears, h
Did He smile His work to see? i
Did He who made the lamb make thee? i
Tiger, tiger, burning bright j
In the forests of the night, j
What immortal hand or eye j
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? -
The poem I have chosen is called “The Tiger”. It was written by William Blake and it is said that it was written around 1794.
“The Tiger” is made up of six quatrains. The first stanza and the last one is the same, although we have to highlight that in the last verse of it we can appreciate a change. The author has changed the beginning of the verse: “Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”/ “Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”. We will analyse the why the author changed it below.
According to the rhyme scheme, we face with a poem made up of couplets. As we already know, the couplet’s rhyme scheme is aa, bb, cc… But the first and last stanzas show us a different rhyme scheme. It is a-a-a and the last verse is a free one in the case of the first stanza and k-k-k and a last verse in the last stanza.
All the couplets rhyme between them. For instance: “and what shoulder and what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart?”.
Concerning to the rhyme of the poem, we have an assonance rhyme at the end of the verse. This means that we can find a tail rhyme in each verse.
Looking at the foot of the poem, we have trochee or choree octameters because we have the first syllable accented and the second one unaccented. The poem has a regular structure and meter.
Blake is analysing the theme of the nature. He is describing the creation of a wild and, at the same time, wonderful and beautiful creature that is the tiger.
At the beginning of the poem, Blake is asking the tiger who is the responsible person for its creation, who has had the courage to create it. The author is very worried of this creation because this animal represents so much danger and he can not understand why this animal is on the face of the earth. When the author says “what immortal hand or eye…” in the verse three, we can understand that Blake is referring to someone or something that has power, and the ability of creating new lives. We can thing that this immortal creator could be God and, in fact, Blake also thought that it was God who had created the fierce figure of the tiger. Other references to the immortal creator in the poem are, for instance, the verses nineteen and twenty in which we can find the pronouns “He/His/He” in capital letters.
Blake is comparing this creator to a blacksmith. Many words like “hammer” (line13); “furnace” (line 14); “anvil” (line 15)… (References from Understanding William Blake’s “The Tiger”; Ed Friedlander, M.D. http://www.pathguy.com/tyger.htm; November 23rd, 2007). So, the tiger was created by a blacksmith who was hammering the creature until giving it the shape of a tiger.
William Blake could not understand why not the creator stopped making this creature when He could see that it will not be a gentle, calm and good animal. So, a question arises: If it was God who created this creature, why God put danger, horror and terrible things and facts in this world if it is supposed that God is always looking after every person in the world? Why terrible things happen if God is benevolent? The poem “is about your own experience of not getting a completely satisfactory answer to this essential question of faith” (Understanding William Blake’s “The Tiger”; Ed Friedlander, M.D.; http://www.pathguy.com/tyger.htm; November 23rd, 2007). This is what Blake could not understand and neither do I. As we can observe, the poem has so many questions, as the previous one that have no answer and it seems that no one is going to answer them.
As we said at the beginning of this analysis, the first stanza and the last one is nearly the same but, in the first stanza “could” have been replaced by “dare”. In my opinion, it is because at the beginning of the poem we do not know who could have the courage to create the tiger and why but, at the end of the poem, as we know that the creator is immortal and has so much power, we understand that only someone or something with these characteristics is responsible of the creation, He feels that He can create it, that He has power enough to create it. “The repeated use of the word “dare” to replace the “could” of the first stanza introduces a dimension of aspiration and wilfulness into the sheer might of the creative act”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_blake; November 23rd, 2007).
As we have said before, “The tiger” was written around 1794. This poem belongs to a great William Blake’s collection called “Songs of Experience”.
“Songs of Experience” was one of the most important William Blake’s works. It is one of the illuminated author’s works, as well. Other important illuminated works of the author are, for instance, “All Religions are One and There is No Natural Religion” which was his first illuminated work publishes in 1788; “Songs of Innocence” published in 1789, the year in which the French Revolution starts and also the year in which Blake starts to write “The Book of Thel”, other of his illuminated works, and “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, published in 1790 (References from http://www.online-literature.com/blake/; November 23rd, 2007).
The first collection of poem of William Blake was “Poetical Sketches” published around 1783. In this collection, we can find the following poems and songs: “to spring”; “to summer”; “to autumn”; “to winter”; “to the evening star”; “to morning”; “Fair Elenor”; “My silks and fine array”; “Love and harmony combine”; “The wild winds weep”; “prologue to King Edward the Fourth”; “prologue to King John” and many others. (References from www.online-literature.com/blake; December 24th, 2007).
“Songs of Innocence” was published, as we said above, in 1789. This collection was written from a child perspective and includes the well-known poem “the lamb” that shows the child’s innocence (References from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_blake; November 23rd, 2007). The poems in this work are written “in a voice with the limpidity of childhood perception; here the ‘innocence’ of the title is portrayed as an unequivocal and valued property of the child” (David Punter, University of Stirling. 17 Julio, 2001; http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=5182; 24th November 2007).
In 1789 took place the French Revolution and it was something William Blake wrote about. In fact, in 1791, Blake wrote at least one part of the French Revolution.
“Jerusalem” is other of his illuminated works, book written and illuminated between 1804 and 1820. This work is the longest one of the author (References from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_blake; November 26th, 2007). It is said that William Blake was a very religious and patriotic person and maybe, his ideas of these concepts are reflected in this work.
In the year in which it is supposed that Blake began writing “Jerusalem”, he also began to work on “Milton a poem” published around 1811. In fact, “Jerusalem” is “an excerpt of ‘Milton’” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_blake; November 23rd, 2007).
Other works of William Blake are “Visions of the Daughters of Albion”, published in 1793; “America a prophecy” (1793); “The Song of Los” which is the third illuminated book. Blake also wrote for children. An example of this is the work “Gates of Paradise” published around 1793. (http://www.online-literature.com/blake/; November 26th, 2007).
William Blake was more than a poet. He was also a painter and printmaker. In fact, Blake illustrated works of other writers and poets. Blake illustrated some poems of Thomas Gray; he made illustrations for Blair’s “The Grave”…Maybe, his most famous or, at least, more known illustrations are the ones to the Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, although Blake could not finish this work because he died in 1827. (References from www.online-literature.com/blake/; November 26th, 2007).
The poem “The tiger” belongs to William Blake’s great work named “Songs of Experience”. This work was published around 1794 with the work “Songs of Innocence”, although this last work was first published in 1789. “Blake himself prepared a number of copies…No two copies are identical; furthermore, there are variations in the arrangement of the poems and even occasional differences as to which sequence a poem belongs to” (David Punter, University of Stirling. http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=2004; 17 Julio, 2001; November 24th, 2007).
It is said that the poems of “Songs of Experience” are in response to ones from “Songs of Innocence”. For instance, “The Tiger” from “Songs of Experience” is a response of “The Lamb” of “Songs of Innocence”. (References from David Punter, University of Stirling. “Songs of Experience”, The Literary Encyclopedia, 17 Julio, 2001; http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=2004; November 24th, 2007). In “The Lamb”, Christ is “the lamb of God” and, in “The Tiger”, it is the same God who is the creator of that creature. We can see how the same God is creating animals that by their behaviour and actions are opposites. (Understanding William Blake’s “The tiger”, Ed Friedlander, M.D.; http://www.pathguy.com/tyger.htm).
“‘Innocence’ is showed as a state to be superseded in the gradual development of consciousness. ‘Songs of Experience’ represent a further stage of this evolution, and again the positions of the narrators are often more uncertain and equivocal than they may appear at first glance” (David Punter, University of Stirling. “Songs of Experience”, http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=2004,17 Julio, 2001; November 24th, 2007).
In “Songs of Experience” we can find poems that show us those aspects of life that are more realistic and pessimistic. But not everything showed is bad; we also can find poems that suggest that “there is hope for transformation enabling a more rewarding ‘experience’ of life” (http://www.poetseers.org/the_poetseers/blake/poetry_of_blake/; November 26th, 2007). Songs of Experience’s poems show “ironic contrast as the child matures and learns of such concepts as fear and envy” (www.online-literature.com/blake/; November 26th, 2007).
“Songs of Experience” is one of the most and important works of William Blake. In this work, “The Tiger” occupies an important place. Blake was a very religious person who trusted a lot in the Bible, in fact, the Bible was a great influence for him and also a source of inspiration in his life.
William Blake’s spiritual beliefs are shown in “Songs of Experience”. In this work, Blake distinguishes between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The author rejected the Old Testament and considered the New Testament as a good influence (References from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songs_of_Experience ; November 23rd, 2007).
In “The Tiger”, as we said in our analysis of the poem, Blake asks why God put good and bad things together in this world; good things like love, harmony, goodness and bad things like wars, hunger, poverty, diseases… Blake could not understand this. If God is as benevolent as, for instance, the Catholic Church affirms, it is not reasonable that both, bad and good things are together in this world. If everybody is a God’ son and God looks after us, why are there so much wars and misfortunes in the world? Nor Blake and nobody in the world can understand this.
Blake’s point of view of conventional religion is present in ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, where he wrote in Proverbs of Hell: “Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion and as the Caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songs_of_Experience; November 23rd, 2007).
So, William Blake created his own mythology which was mainly based on the Bible and on the Greek mythology. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songs_of_Experience; November 23rd, 2007).
The author did not hold with the doctrine of God as Lord, an entity separate from and superior to mankind. This is related with his belief in liberty and equality in society and between the sexes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songs_of_Experience; November 23rd, 2007).
We said above that “The tiger” was written in response to “The Lamb” of ‘Songs of Innocence’. It is said that the Lamb is Jesus and Jesus is for Blake the “vital relationship and unity between divinity and humanity”: ‘all had originally one language and one religion: this was the religion of Jesus, the everlasting Gospel. Antiquity preaches the Gospel of Jesus’. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
Nowadays, William Blake is recognised as a saint in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
We have said many times that the poem “The Tiger” was published in 1789, the year in which the French Revolution broke out. The French Revolution was “a period of political and social upheaval in the political history of France and Europe as a whole” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007). There were changes in the forms that were “based on Enlightenment principles of republic, citizenship, and inalienable rights”.
The war broke out because of economical, social and political factors like increment of unemployed people and the increment in the prices of the basic aliments; “the social and psychological burdens of the many wars of the 18th century, which in the era before the dawn of nationalism were exclusively the province of the monarchy”; “aspirations for liberty and republicanism”… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007). In August, 1789, feudalism was abolished and some days later, the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen was published. Concerning the Catholic Church, it has the vast majority of the lands of the country. The Church wanted to levy a tax on crops “dime” but it was abolished by the legislation (1790). Church’s properties were also confiscated and they were given to the nation. The Church did no agree with this situation and there was a confrontation between the priests and the nation. This finished with many priests killed. Finally, “the Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and the Church ended the dechristianisation period and established the rules for a relationship between the Catholic Church and the French State that lasted until it was abrogated by the Third Republic via the separation of church and state of 11 December 1905”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
Louis XVI and General Bouillé condemned both the emigration and the assembly. “The King vetoed legislation that threatened the émigrés with death and that decreed that every non-juring clergyman must take within eight days the civic oath mandated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007). During this war, thousands and thousands of people died in the guillotine accused of having been related with counter-revolutionary activities or because of their ideals. In fact, the King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were also killed under it. As well, there were many citizens that were forced to become in soldiers in the war because of the deaths of thousands of soldiers ‘levée en masse’ (References from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
Other very important fact that took place in this period was the Industrial Revolution. During this period, there were changes in many aspects of the daily life like agriculture, manufacturing, transportation… All this was reflected in the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of Britain, and also in Europe and North America. It was a “process that continues as industrialisation” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
Some of the causes of the Industrial Revolution in Britain were that Britain “received from its many overseas colonies natural or financial resources, profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean helped fuel industrial investment” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007). It is said that Britain succeeded in the Industrial Revolution because the population of this country was very high for the small territory it occupies. Britain had key resources. “The peasantry disappeared and the upper classes developed commercial interests that made them pioneers in removing obstacles to the growth of capitalism” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
Dissenters was out of almost all public offices and education but when the monarchy was restored and the Anglican Church had much power and control, dissenters could participate in those activities or works that at first have been denied to them.
Concerning the social effects the Industrial Revolution had caused, we can say that the middle class of industrialists and businessmen were very lucky and triumphed over a landed class of nobility and gentry. As well, there were more opportunities of working for ordinary working people but the conditions of those works were not good. In fact, something that predominated during this period was the child labour, dirty living conditions and long working hours. People, who had been working the lands during all their lives, had to go to the cities like Manchester to work in the factories. But there were also groups of people named ‘luddites’ that protested against industrialisation and sabotaged factories. Children had no many possibilities of education and had to work in terrible conditions and with a bad salary. Children used to work in coal mines and textile factories. The “Factory Laws” established that children under 9 years were not allowed to work, they could not work at night they could not work more than twelve hours in the day (References from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
People who belonged to the lower classes were living in bad conditions. So, they were very prone to diseases and many people died because of them. “Chest diseases from the mines, cholera from polluted water and typhoid were also extremely common, as was smallpox” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).Children and women had many accidents during their work’s days.
Blake was against slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. He was very interested in social and political events, “but was often forced to resort to cloaking social idealism and political statements in Protestant mystical allegory”. He was also against the imposition of authority. His views on what he thought that was oppressive and restrictive of rightful freedom extended to the Church. As we said above, all his spiritual believes are shown in his work “Songs of Experience” (References from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Romanticism was developed and William Blake was one of its most important figures. Romanticism was developed against the Neoclassicism. Romanticism put emphasis on imagination, emotion and freedom and its mainly characteristics are subjectivity, spontaneity, emphasis on individualism, freedom from rules, solitary life rather than life in society, the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty, fascination with the past… It is said that it was in Britain that the Romantic Movement really started (References from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyger; November 23rd, 2007).
“The Tiger” is considered nowadays as one of the most famous and important poem of the poet William Blake. As we said above, the poem is about the question of nature. The principal idea of the poem is God, the creation of the beings by God and, in this case, of a tiger. Blake could not understand why good and bad things are in this world. He could not understand why God created bad things and put them in this world, and it is something that nobody can understand nowadays. People can not understand why bad things like earthquakes, wars, hunger, diseases take place in this world. It is clear that most of them take place because of the human being like wars but, if God is and will be always looking after us, why do He let that these things happen? Why do He let that thousands and thousands of people die in these wars? It is what Blake could not understand and, in my opinion, it is something that nobody can understand nowadays. I think that this question is, at least, one of the points what this poem has in relation with today.
- David Punter, University of Stirling. “Songs of Experience”, http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=2004
- Understanding William Blake’s “The Tiger”; Ed Friedlander, M.D.; http://www.pathguy.com/tyger.htm