British Culture & Expressions

“The Tiger” by William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake was a visionary poet, now consider one of the greatest contributor to English literature. Born in London, he was first a passionate of painting, engraving and illustration. From 1789 he wrote Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience. The later including one of the most famous opening lines in English poetry  ‘Tiger Tiger, burning bright’.

Songs of Experience

In his attempt to show the two contrary states of the human soul, Blake wrote Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. This poem, “The Tiger”, has its opposite in the Song of Innocence, “The lamb”.

The tiger is a symbol for wild forces in the soul against rules and conventions. The ability of managing our emotions effectively. To summarise, the poem formulates one question “What kind of God made as fierce as the Tiger / made you the way you are?”

The Poem “Tiger Tiger, burning bright”

Tiger Tiger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame *thy fearful symmetry?

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?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the *sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What *dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what *furnace was thy brain?
What the *anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors *clasp!

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?

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Vocabulary

  • Thy > archaic form of “your”.
  • Thine > archaic form of “yours”.
  • Sinews > tendons, ligaments.
  • Dread > great fear.
  • Furnace > structure where heat is generated.
  • Anvil > a heavy iron block on which heated metals are hammered into desired shapes.
  • Clasp > grasp (something) tightly with one’s hand.
  • Thee > archaic form of “your”.

 

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