Chandrashekhar Raut is a student of literature and a freelancer. Literature is his field of writing.
The Tyger is William Blake’s one of the most famous poems. It is amongst the finest pieces of verse in the English literature. The Tyger is a unique creation of art for its depth of thought; its charming music; its delineation; its subtle imagery; its complex symbolism, etc. The poem is ever inconclusive. It is kaleidoscopic by nature. Blake revised it to perfection. But from the reader’s point of view it appears to be incomplete. It is not the poet’s fault but because of the reader’s understanding fails. Critics dive deep exploring to find different meanings and put forward various interpretations. Some apply psychological view; others attribute mystical intricacies; while others find it to be a representation of Blake’s irrational mind. Whatever may be the opinions of the critics, one thing is certain that the ultimate meaning of this poem may never be determined. It depends upon the response of the reader to the ideas offered by Blake; larger the scope of the intellect of the reader, the deeper the meaning he is bound to grasp. And that is real success of Blake and his art. Blake presents in “The Tyger,” the threshold of new intellectual perspective and new intellectual adventure. Let’s taste a bit in this piece of writing!
Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
(Tiger with the fire of life)
In the forest of the night,
(In the jungle or maze of our dark world)
What immortal hand or eye
(What god, or God)
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Tiger is to Blake a symbol of life – relentless, strong, remorseless, yet beautiful. Tiger is a symbol also of regeneration and energy.
“Eyes” in Blake’s thinking, is a conception of God. More specifically it is Clear Vision. The image of fire has begun with the third word of the poem, “burning.” It is a very useful image to Blake.
In line 3-4, the speaker wonders at the dreadful and yet well-proportioned shape of the tiger, and asks who could have been the creator of the magnificent body.
In what distant deeps or skies
(From where originally?)
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
(Came the life-element in you?)
On what wings did he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
(What god was it who fashioned you so?)
In the first line is suggested a time connotation. The speaker asks, where and when the tiger was created? The figure of these lines is elusive but highly suggestive of basic primordial considerations.
The last two lines allude to a mythological story. The ancient myth of Prometheus is introduced. The mythological god had seized fire and brought it to earth. He also helped to create men by giving them some of the qualities of all the other animals.
And what shoulder, and what art,
(What force and skill?)
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
(Could form the essential, powerful thing you are?)
And when thy heart began to beat,
(When this essential thing that you are did take form)
What dread hand? and what dread feet?
In this stanza, the poet develops a more substantial and relevant symbol for the creator. It introduces some god of strength and skill. Superficially he seems to be the Roman fire-god, Vulcan. However, intense thinking reveals him to be the Roman god, Hephaestus. He is the god of skill and fire. We observe that the figure of the creator has now formed into an amalgamated one.
What the hammer? What the chain?
(What are the tools?)
In what furnace was thy brain?
(In what beaker was your essence?)
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
(What god could wield these tools and hold, let alone make – for it is made now the power and terror you are?)
The symbol of the Creator is completed in the forth stanza. For his qualities of forethought, he is Prometheus, Vulcan for his identity with fire, Hephaestus as the supremely skilled smith of the universe, and even Thor, for that god’s hammer and anvil and frequently identification with Jove. As a whole, the Creator is incomparable and omnipotent in his skills. And his creation, the tiger is in itself force and power, deadly and terrible. It is cruelty personified who stands in contrary to the lamb.
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
(Lightning and thunderstorm – the actual, fulminatory beginning of the working universe)
Did he smile his work to see?
(A smile for the inscrutable mystery he has produced in the world and in each soul)
Did he made the Lamb make thee?
(The previous simile suggests a positive answer to this question, and the problem of Creator and Meaning is answered thus by other works of Blake)
This brings the poem to its climax. It comments on the fundamental question: is God one, and if He is, did He make two different things which are in conflict with each other? Or, is the “tyger,” then, a symbol of more than evil – of reconciliation, of God Himself?
The question seems to be unanswered but considering the affable tone of the entire poem, the question is answer itself, other works by Blake supports the conclusion.
The sixth stanza is a duplication of the first. Except one significant word – “dare” has replaced “could” in order to give a finishing touch and to sustain the inherent tone of wonder and surprise.
The Eternal Quest
Blake's great life-long quest was to bring himself and his fellowmen to a radical new reality and all his works and art was aimed at this spiritual purpose. He unceasingly devoted himself through his art to solve the "eternal question." And "The Tyger" is the explicit example of his eternal mission!
© 2020 Chandrasekhar Rajendra Raut