November 24, 2008

How to write a literature essay - William Blake series 4

One of William Blake's most famous and most interpreted poems is of course "The Tyger". I have heard that even the Pope, Pope John Paul II, had interpreted and written his literary analysis and his literature analysis of the poem. Here in this literature resource that I am writing today, I have written about William Blake's "The Tyger", and asking about the underlying religious and Christian references. Remember that in any written work or any written analysis, always refer to the essay question. You must try your very best to answer the essay question.

Always remember to write out the essay question in your introduction and frame the question in such a way as to make you able to answer it properly. Then do remember whenever you write your written paper or your essay - answer the essay question in your own words, then write out what you will be talking about in the course of this essay. Note that when you become very good or even become an expert at writing, for Literature, English, Knowledge and Inquiry, General Paper and other subjects, then you can play around and look around to do something new and innovative. Other than that it is not advisable.

Here is the written literary analysis of "The Tyger" by William Blake.

William Blake’s The Tyger: What Was Blake Thinking about God and Creation?

The Tyger

“The Tyger” begins with the speaker asking a tiger what kind of divine being could have created it: “What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” There is an air of questioning throughout the poem. Each subsequent stanza contains further questions, all of which refine this first fundamental question. From what part of the universe could the tiger’s fiery eyes have come; who would have dared to handle that; what sort of physical presence, what kind of craftsmanship, would have been required to “twist the sinews” of the tiger's heart? The speaker wonders how, once that heart “began to beat” its creator would have had the courage to continue. With the image of a blacksmith, the speaker thinks of the “anvil” and “furnace” that creation would have required and the blacksmith who yielded it. And when the tiger was completed, the speaker wonders how its creator would have felt. This is the summary of “The Tyger”, but the analytical question is: what is the underlying and deeper meaning in relation to creation and to God? Perhaps there is no real simple and obvious answer to: “What was Blake thinking about God and creation?” This analysis delves into the deeper meaning of the poem, its literary beauty, and aims to determine what Blake might have wanted to say about creation, God, and ultimately, Christianity.

Firstly, the poem comprises six quatrains in rhymed couplets, where the meter is rhythmic and regular, and its repetitive hammering rhythm is suggestive of the blacksmith hammering away and creating the tiger that is the poem’s central image. The alliteration of the hard consonant sounds also capture attention, as the “Tyger, Tyger”, “burning bright” and hard “d” sounds throughout the poem focus the readers on the substantive matter of the poetry, which suggests a hard and harsh underlying interpretation of the truth about creation. The simplicity and neatness of the poem’s regular form perfectly suit its uniform structure, in which all the questions contribute to the articulation of a single central idea.

The opening question develops the drama of the exciting poem, and each subsequent stanza elaborates: Blake builds on the conventional idea that nature, like art, must in some way contain a reflection of its creator. The tiger is naturally beautiful yet simultaneously horrific in its violence and inclinations. What kind of a God or Creator, then, could or would design such a “contradictory” beast? In more general terms, what does the undeniable existence of evil and violence in the world tell us about the nature of God, and what does it mean when a living creature can at once contain both beauty and horror? This is perhaps the key to understanding the poem fully: that it is an exploration of the age-old and common philosophical “problem of evil”. The tiger initially appears as an exciting and sensuous image, but as the poem progresses it takes on a symbolic character, embodying the spiritual and moral problem which the poem explores: beautiful yet destructive, the tiger becomes the symbol for an investigation into the presence of evil in the world. Since the tiger exists both in “physical” and “moral” terms, the speaker’s questions about its origins must also encompass both those physical and moral dimensions. The poem’s questions repeatedly ask what sort of physical creative being could create that “fearful symmetry” of a tiger; assumedly only a very strong, powerful being could be capable of such a beautiful yet terrible creation.

There appears superficially to be a key theme of fire in the poem. “The Tyger” is “burning bright” - a first and obvious reference to fire that is a constant recurring theme in the poem. “Burnt the fire of thine eyes?” reflects the image of fire once again. Perhaps that can be regarded as an interesting reference to Heaven and Hell and continuing the doubts raised regarding the creation of such a beast from the question posed in the first stanza. More than simple speculation, the fire is indeed needed for the poem in order to suggest a forging of the tiger, with all its concomitant imagery.

The “forging” of the tiger suggests a physical, laborious and deliberate kind of creation; it emphasizes the awesome physical build and nature of the tiger, and therefore precludes the idea that such a creation could have been accidentally or haphazardly produced. Clearly Blake was not a fond supporter of evolutionary theory, as his idea smacks somewhat of creationism and intelligent design. The forging of the creature comes with the imagery of fire, with its own simultaneous connotations of creation in fire, purification with fire, and destruction due to fire. The speaker stands in awe of the tiger as a physical and aesthetic achievement, as he also recoils in possible horror from the moral implications of such a creation; the poem addresses the moral question of who could make such a creature. In the third stanza, one observes the parallelism of “shoulder” and “art” as well as the fact that it is not just the body but also the “heart”, metaphorical and literal, of the tiger that is being forged, suggesting that the creator was indeed responsible for the tiger’s vicious and terrible nature. The repeated word “dare” to replace the “could” of the first stanza introduces an important element of aspiration, willingness and wilfulness into the creative act.

Using another perspective, an alternative view may be suggested. “What the hand, dare seize the fire” suggests perhaps a shift in the poem from a wilful God who created an awesome yet fear-inducing creature – the shift to the courage of creation is another possible interpretation. In other words, God is courageous to create the tiger. The creation metaphor completes its passage because all the elements of creation in the forge have been contemplated: the “furnace”, the tools, the hammer, the chain and the “anvil” all reflect and augment the physical strength and courage of the smith. In the line “Dare its deadly terrors clasp”, the word “dare” reappears and perhaps the idea of a courageous, rather than simply a capable, Creator is developed. Perhaps there is further depth than simply the creation of evil by God as Creator. Indeed, the poem reaches the heart of the most troubling issue that racks theologians and philosophers alike. How can a benevolent God allow, for example, the death of an innocent child through famine or malnutrition or war? Clearly the idea of the “problem of evil” is central to the poem, no matter the interpretation of the lines. The change in the poem from simply a capable creator to a brave creator possibly suggests that Blake saw a necessity for balance in the world.

In addition, the reference to the lamb in the second-last stanza reminds the reader that both the tiger and the lamb have been created by the very same God, and raises questions about the implications of this “fact”. “The Tyger” consists entirely of unanswered questions, unlike “The Lamb”, where the answers are clear and rather dogmatic-sounding, and the speaker leaves us here to stare at the complexity of creation, the magnitude of God's power, and the inscrutability of His will. This poem involves an acknowledgment of what is unexplainable in the universe, presenting evil as something that cannot be denied. The open awe of “The Tyger” contrasts with the easy confidence and facile answers in “The Lamb”, of a child’s innocent faith in a benevolent and omnipotent Creator. In conclusion, there can be no easy answers. It is easy to say that Blake was thinking of the “problem of evil” and about the apparent contradiction of a God who could create both beauty and terrifying horror in one creature, but beyond that this poem is far more complex philosophically, beyond words in its recognition of contradictions.


Blake, William, David Erdman and Harold Bloom. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. California: University of California Press 1982.