The following is what I hope will become a new, “interactive” feature on the blog. Each week I am going to post a poem followed by a few of my thoughts regarding the poem’s meaning, purpose, etc. I may include a few questions as well. Then I hope that discussion will break out about said poem. The idea is for this blog to become a forum of sorts for discussion about the poems so that we can help each other be further enlightened and inspired by the world of great literature. Bring forth any knowledge or ideas you may have of the poem or poet. Want to approach from a feminists perspective? Go right ahead. Want to approach it from a biographical critical approach? Typically a good idea. Want to explore how the poem makes you feel? Completely valid.However you want to approach the subject, I hope that you will join me in this endeavor. Let us go further up and further in.Without further ado, here is the first poem:
Due to some problems with formatting I just decided to link to the poem, William Blake’s “Tyger, tyger.”
First of all, a little bit of background about Mr. Blake:
• He lived from 1757-1827
• He was an English poet and artist who was born, and spent much of his life, in London
• His only formal education was in art (primarily in drawing and painting) and for a time he studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts.
• When Blake was fourteen he became an apprentice to an engraver named James Basire. It was during this time that he began to write poetry.
• In 1781 Blake married Catherine Boucher to whom he was married the rest of his life. They had no children together. At the time of their marriage she was illiterate and Blake taught her to read.
• For several years Blake worked as an engraver and was fairly successful. He also taught drawing and illustrated books to make money.
• He is commonly referred to as a British Romantic poet, however he was not so named until fairly recently when, in the mid 1900’s, his work was revisited and praised by the likes of critic Northrup Frye. It seems that his work was well liked in Blake’s own time, but not considered revolutionary or epic in its greatness, as it is by many theorists and critics today. Today he considered on par with poets like Byron, Wordsworth, Longfellow, Coleridge and other famous torch bearers of British Romanticism.
• Blake was a pretty decent artist and often included with his poems (which he always self published, sometimes through engravings) paintings and drawings to further explore the ideas in the words themselves, as you can see by the copy of the engraving to the right. Often these paintings or drawings would even contradict the words though. It seems he did this purposefully in order to highlight a specific idea of create tension between any number of otherwise similar ideas. He loved to play games with words and pictures.
A few of my own thoughts on this beautiful and intriguing poem:
First of all, this is a poem that is widely read — I recall memorizing it in elementary school, in fact. However, I don’t think people really grasp the depth of this work; it is really quite complicated.
On the one hand, it can be seen as a poem about the battle between good and evil: the tyger, according to this theory, represents, perhaps, the devil, or at least some sort of evil being that is representative of evil as an idea. A metaphor of evil, if you will.
The reference to fire “burning bright” in the first line of the poem could be a reference to the fires of hell. And in the fourth stanza “when the stars threw down their spears and water’d heaven with their tears” (which you may recognize from a Five Iron Frenzy song!) is probably an allusion to the battle in heaven that resulted in Lucifer’s banishment from Paradise.
On the other hand, there is some of kind creator being whose existence is key to the poem. The poem is actually about the creation of tyger: in the fourth line of the first stanza we read of the tyger’s “fearful symmetry” being “framed;” the entire third stanza is reminiscent of Shelley’s Frankenstein where whoever or whatever created this tyger suddenly realizes they have created a monster; and the fourth stanza seem to be an allusion to a blacksmith, perhaps even the Greek god of fire and forge, Hephaestus. It appears that perhaps what Blake may be suggesting, or at least wondering, is whether God, as creator, created Lucifer (or maybe even evil itself) and upon realizing what he has done or what the creature has become might not have thought it all that “good.”
I can’t say with any certainty whether Blake is actually referring to God himself, but he does seem to be referring to some sort of other-wordly creator. Consider the third line of the first stanza where Blake writes of a “immortal hand or eye,” and again at the end of the poem he makes the same reference. He also uses the word “dare”, a verb, several times in connection with the creator being. He seems to be suggesting that there is something fearless about the creator in that he would “dare” be so bold as first create, then interact with the tyger. Perhaps the creator is fearless because it need not fear anything.
One stanza that makes me think that perhaps Blake is indeed referring to God is the fifth one where he alludes to the battle in heaven. In the final two lines of the stanza he writes: “Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
This sounds like a reference to Genesis where God looks out at His creation and says that it is good. Perhaps this time, Blake might be suggesting, He did not say that His creation was good.
Also, consider the following. “Tyger, tyger” comes from a book of poems called Songs of Experience that is in some ways a sister set of poems to his Songs of Innocence. In S.O.I., as I will call them here, Blake published a poem called “The Lamb” that alludes to, and in some ways mirrors, the form of the early catechisms, those questions and answers that taught children Christian doctrine. In this poem he writes from the perspective of a little child who is questioning the origins of life, particularly the life of a little lamb. The second stanza of that poem directly alludes to Christ’s coming as a child and his subsequent sacrifice as “Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” Some critics think that Blake directly and purposefully wrote these poems to correspond and thus it would make sense for his reference to the Lamb in the “Tyger, tyger” to be a corresponding allusion to Christ.
There is so much more that could be discussed about this poem, so what do you think?
Consider a few things:
• Why does Blake use the word “frame” in stanzas one and four. This word has several meanings, what is Blake doing with it here?
• I think that Blake is making an allusion to the Greek myth of Daedulus and Icarus, and also the myth of Prometheus, in stanza two, the last two verses. What do you think of this theory? If he did, why did he; and if he didn’t then what else might those lines refer to?
• What do you think of Blake’s use of the word “dare” in the poem?
• What about the theory that this poem is about the nature and role of art and the artist?
• What about the theory this this poem is about nature and decay and the fallen state of man?
• What other thoughts do you have???
** Note: biographical information was taken from The Norton Anthology of English Literature (8th Edition, Volume B, Major Authors)