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      The Tyger

      Tyger! Tyger! 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 sieze the fire?
      
      And what shoulder, & what art,
      Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
      And when thy heart began to beat,
      What dread hand? & 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?
      
      Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
      In the forests of the night,
      What immortal hand or eye
      Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
      

      William Blake (1757-1827)


      Blake's "The Tyger": The Dreadful and Difficult Side of the Creator

      Anyone who ponders religious questions must eventually think about the complex and sometimes frightening nature of God, and that is exactly what Blake is doing in "The Tyger." Actually the poem is a series of rhetorical questions to which the implied answers are very clear. Who "dared" frame or design the dreadful and terrible tiger? Why, God, of course! Was that the same God who designed the gentle little lamb? Yes, the same God who made the wooly little lamb also made that murderously efficient killing machine, the tiger. For developing minds who think of God only as a "Great Kind and Loving Father" the implied but obvious answers to these questions can be disturbing. If we credit God with being the creator of the universe, then He is also the creator of such murderous beasts as the great white shark, the diamondback rattler and, of course, the deadly tiger. It is very clear but also a little upsetting that Blake is reminding us that there is a dreadful and quite difficult side to the nature of God.

      The questions of the first and second stanzas of the poem are about the fire in the eyes of the tiger, the glowing fiery yellow of the eyes of any cat -- big or small -- prowling around in the dark. It is the fire of violence and fury that inspired the theme song of the great boxing movie Rocky, "The Eye of the Tiger." As Blake puts it,

      Tyger! Tyger! 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 sieze the fire?
      
      Such "fearful symmetry" or frightening perfection is, as Blake implies, something only the "immortal hand or eye" of God could achieve. And only a creator of immense power and daring would be able to to bring such fire from the "distant deeps" of the earth or from the "skies." What kind of God would dare to pluck such frightening fire from the depths of the earth and place it in the eyes of a tiger?

      The questions in the third and fourth stanzas of the poem suggest an image of something like a huge 18th Century ironworks run by someone like Dr. Frankenstein:

      And what shoulder, & what art,
      Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
      And when thy heart began to beat,
      What dread hand? & 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?
      
      Hammers and anvils? Furnaces and chains? A blacksmith with strength enough in his shoulder and daring enough in his grasp to "twist the sinews" of the tiger's heart, to "clasp" the "deadly terrors" required to complete the design and construction of the tiger? It is a nightmarish comparison of the Creator at work to a mad genius assembling a monster, even down to the point of exulting when his monstrous creation's "heart began to beat." Blake triggers our memory of the moment in the old Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein when the mad scientist exclaims: "It's alive! It's alive!"

      It is, however, the last couple of stanzas where one really sees into the heart of Blake's poem. Indeed, the tone of voice in the last questions is almost unbearably bitter:

      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?
      
      Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
      In the forests of the night,
      What immortal hand or eye
      Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
      
      Listen to the sardonic bitterness as Blake asks the Tyger if God smiled when He finished designing and creating that terrible feline. One can clearly hear the implication that God was well pleased with Himself for creating the Tyger. Also, listen to the dripping sarcasm as Blake asks the Tyger -- although he dare not and actually never does direct any of these questions to God Himself -- "Did the same God make thee as made the gentle, frolicking little lamb?" In more modern terms, the question reads as "What kind of a God creates beauty and gentleness with one hand and vicious and deadly violence with the other hand?"

      Do not make the mistake of thinking that Blake was not a true believer in Christianity. He was certain that his dying brother John had seen Jesus Himself coming to lead John into Heaven. The essential point is this: Blake's belief in a God was so strong that he demanded of himself truth and forthrightness. Quite simply put, what are we to think of the benevolence and loving kindness and fatherliness of a God who does such a splendid job designing a beast like the Tyger? The clearly implied answers to Blake's questions still trouble us today.