Within William Blake’s Songs of Experience, lies a literary gem known as ‘The Tyger.’ This poem stands as a testament to conscious artistry, representing Blake’s most impressive and renowned shorter work. Within its verses, the tiger emerges as a symbol of relentless strength, remorseless beauty, and the forces of life itself, setting it in stark contrast to the lamb, which embodies innocence and gentleness.
In the realm of Experience, the tiger roars as the chief symbol, ‘burning bright in the forests of the night.’ This imagery paints the tiger metaphorically aflame with rage, becoming a potent symbol of passion and anger. At its core, the tiger embodies the universe’s violent and terrifying aspects, as well as the equally tumultuous forces that reside within the human soul.
The poem’s speaker finds themselves overwhelmed by the tiger’s beauty and ferocity. They marvel at its dreadful yet perfectly proportioned form, reflecting on the divine artistry that shaped such a fearsome creature. In contemplating the tiger, the universe itself becomes an enigmatic place, shrouded in the silent gloom of ‘night’ and ‘forests,’ where the secrets of nature remain veiled.
The muscles of the tiger’s heart and the fearsome workings of its brain leave the poet in awe of the Creator’s strength and audacity. The sheer power, skill, and courage displayed in crafting such a creature are beyond human comprehension.
Blake’s depiction of the tiger’s creation transfers the beast’s strength and terrifying beauty onto its Maker. The symmetry and craftsmanship of this divine act are captured in the famous lines: ‘What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’
‘The Tiger’ stands as a poetic manifestation of Blake’s unwavering trust in cosmic forces. While the tiger reappears in his prophetic works, here, it symbolizes the fierce inner forces required to shatter the bonds of experience. The lamb, on the other hand, embodies gentleness and the higher aspects of the soul.
These two creatures, the lamb and the tiger, symbolize different states of the human soul. When the lamb is consumed by experience, the tiger emerges to restore equilibrium to the world. It’s a profound paradox that the same Creator should fashion both the lamb and the tiger. In this duality, Christ emerges as a symbol, embodying the balance between the meekness of the lamb and the wrath of the tiger, achieving a divine equilibrium.
“The Tyger” delves into the profound problem of evil, offering a complex exploration of how to reconcile the forgiveness of sins, represented by the lamb, with the punishment of sins, embodied by the tiger. Fire, in this context, serves as a symbol of divine wrath, while the forest represents the world of Experience, where countless errors obscure the path and dim the light of understanding. Blake suggests that the purpose of wrath is to consume these errors, annihilating stubborn beliefs that resist correction by the gentle “horses of instruction.”
Blake’s poetic structure in this piece follows his characteristic style, presenting the entire process of the tiger’s creation through a series of white-hot exclamations rather than a detailed description. This approach intensifies the emotional impact of the poem, invoking awe and dread:
“What dread hand? and what dread feet? What the hammer? What the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil?”
The mention of the hammer, chain, furnace, and anvil required for the tiger’s creation evokes a sense of terror and awe, emphasizing the magnitude of this divine act.
“The Tyger” stands as one of Blake’s most renowned and widely interpreted works. The phrase “fearful symmetry” encapsulates the tiger’s dreadful yet perfectly balanced form. The poem achieves a remarkable blend of vivid realism and powerful visionary qualities. Lines that describe the fiery quality of the tiger’s eyes and its glittering skin in the dark forests metaphorically underscore its violent, terrifying, and destructive nature.
“Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night.”
Ultimately, the tiger symbolizes the violent and terrifying forces inherent within the individual human soul. It combines a strikingly realistic portrayal of a wild beast with a symbolic representation of the fearsome aspects of human nature, making “The Tyger” a profoundly compelling work of art.