Exploring the Movement and Message of Blake’s “The Tyger” Scott Offutt Nowhere in the Songs of Innocence and Experience are the beauty, wonder, and mystery of William Blake’s work so intertwined, and within such a puzzling framework, as in “The Tyger.” Read alongside its counterpart, “The Lamb,” the poem emerges as a curiosity within Blake’s oeuvre, displaying not only the highly individuated and complex symbolic structure which recurs throughout the Songs , but also a number of dualistic properties which further contribute to the difficulty of its examination. Inherent contradictions between the works, as well as implicit and apparent challenges to religious convention, technological and social progress, and revolutionary idealism, lead to an interpretation of the work not only as an artistic expression but also as a functionally dynamic statement which transcends the limits of form. “The Tyger’s” first stanza paraphrases the most explicit thesis of the poem in the question, “What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry” (Blake 197, 3- 4). Herein is one of the poem’s strongest images: the titular tyger, “burning bright/In the forests of the night” (1-2). The repeated address of the aforementioned (“Tyger Tyger”) in the first line evokes an ecstatic mood on the part of the rhetorical figure. Accompanying the intensity produced in the repetition of the name of the poem’s focus is the altogether profound description of the tyger illuminating the woodlands with a somewhat dubious internal fire. Certainly, the description of the “forests of the night” can be considered positive when compared to other portrayals of dark, wooded areas throughout the Songs, as with the imagery of the first “Nurse’s Song,” in which the 1
children trusted to the nurse’s care beg to “let us play” even during the night (Blake 188, 9). Still unclear is the nature of the fire produced by the creature, which may be creative, destructive, or both. When the first lines of the stanza are considered in relation to the question constituting its final lines, the fire and the tyger acquire symbolic resonance as Promethean or Satanic. At first glimpse, the figure wonders whether the subject of the poem could be framed—that is, contained—by even a divine force. The reader, meanwhile, is left to question the tyger’s identity and to consider what it might represent.
- Fall '13