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"The Tyger" - William Blake

by Jough Dempsey
17 September 1998

Read the poem: "The Tyger"

William Blake's "The Tyger," the 'Experience' counterpart to the 'Innocence' of "The Lamb," is from his collection Songs of Innocence and Experience. The meaning of the poem deeply depends on the reader's background and personal religious beliefs. Although many interpretations are possible, there are only a few that are most likely, and one in particular; that the Tyger is not a symbol for evil, or a manifestation of the Christian "Satan," but rather man's life on Earth after the proverbial Garden of Eden.

Blake uses the words 'Innocence' and 'Experience' rather than 'good' and 'evil' to describe the opposing sides of man's nature. In "The Tyger," especially, Blake examines the fall of humanity from grace, out of the blissful innocence of the Garden and into the experience of contemporary life. Much of "The Tyger" is written in the form of questions that the reader must answer. These are not the unbiased questions of a news reporter, but rather questions that guide only certain acceptable responses, asking questions that use words like 'fearful,' 'dread,' 'deadly terrors,' and questions such as 'In what furnace was thy brain?'

Man was banished from the Garden of Eden, into the 'forests of the night' after succumbing to the temptations of evil. 'Thy fearful symmetry' is the natural balance of good and evil not only in the world, but in the heart of man. The poem then makes an attempt at cleverly alluding to the dawn of man on Earth, and the discovery of fire with the line 'What the hand dare seize the fire?' (an allusion to Promethias, as well). Blake continues with an inventory of inventions, such as 'art,' 'the hammer,' 'the chain,' and 'the anvil.' The 'stars,' or Angels in Heaven 'threw down their spears,' ending a war in Heaven when man fell, according to Christian mythology. With this regard, "The Tyger" isn't another name for man, but rather a symbol for man's loss of innocence and gaining of the experience of sin against God.

There are many interpretations of this poem, and you'd be wise to follow-through with some research before accepting this, my 'reading' of the poem. There's something about "The Tyger" that seems to captivate critics and poetry lovers. It's a strange, mysterious piece. Contrast-and-compare it with "The Lamb," which was meant to be a mirror piece, of sorts.

Read the poem: "The Tyger"


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