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William Blake

The Tyger

Some more challenging questions!

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poet looks at the power and yet the terror of the tiger and asks questions about its creation.

He uses the image of God as a blacksmith, beating the tiger into existence in the same way as a blacksmith beats metal into shape.

But, asks the poet, is this the same Creator God as the one who shaped the lamb? Indeed, is this the same God as the one who is the Father of Jesus Christ?



ABOUT THE POET

William Blake was born in London in November 1757. He lived most of his life in that city.

When he was 10 years of age, he attended a drawing school and thereafter made engraving his profession, graduating from the Royal Academy at the age of 22.

He was then employed as an engraver to a bookseller and publisher, where he was responsible for creating metal picture plates for making illustrations in books.

In 1783, Blake published his first volume of poems and thereafter established his own engraving business. This enabled him to publish poetry in a way in which no other poet was doing: by incorporating his text into engraved picture plates.

This would have remarkable consequences. First, the pictures were artistic renditions of the theme and were not meant to be accurate. Second, each and every picture appeared in a slightly different shade of colour so that it is difficult today to determine which colour was the original.

Move your mouse over the picture below to see an example of his engraving for "The Tyger".

Blake's best poems are found in just two collections: Songs of Innocence which he published in 1789; and Songs of Experience although this was not published on its own.

Indeed, his complete works was published in 1794 and was called Songs of Innocence and Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.

Blake was regarded in his time as very strange, if not somewhat mad. In fact, his ideas make more sense to us today than they did to his contemporaries.

He was a Christian but in a very unorthodox sense. Indeed, he appears to have been what we today call a Gnostic Christian.

The Gnostics believed in the inner power of wisdom which guides us.

They also believed in two Gods. The first was the God who created material things: like the world, the animals and humans. The second was the God who created the things of the spirit: like the human soul.

The first God is responsible for all the nasty things in life: like suffering and pollution and dreadful industrialisation. The second God is responsible for all the wonderful things in life: like salvation, the human spirit and, of course, Jesus Christ.

Study "The Tyger" carefully. Can you not see the existence of two Gods there? The one God created the Tyger while the other created the Lamb.

At the time that Blake wrote "The Tyger", people knew very little about wild animals. Perhaps they might have seen a lion in a circus but almost no-one would have seen a tiger.

A tiger therefore came to represent something to Blake, and it is this that he tries to portray in his poem, "The Tyger".

But what is he trying to tell us? Is it, in the words of his anthology in which this poem was published, something about "the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul"?

Blake died in August 1827. He was then 70 years of age.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
TEST YOURSELF!
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:



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?
  • Explain the contrast between the Creator God's shoulder and his art. (4)

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  • Is the Tyger presented as evil? (4)

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Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
  • The poet contrasts the Tyger with the Lamb. Comment on the aptness of this contrast. (4)

[Need help?]




Comment on the construction of this poem. (10)

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Most poetry books today have changed the construction of this poem. Run your mouse over the pop-up picture and notice the differences between the original poem and the poem as it appears in your book.

What differences do you see? (6)

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The original poem was not published merely as a poem-in-words but rather as a work of art.
  • Study the pop-up picture and explain how a reading of the poem as a picture differs from merely reading the words? (4)

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Does Blake admire the Tyger? (4)

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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?
  • Are the questions which Blake asks throughout this poem directed at the Tyger or at the reader? Explain. (4)

[Need help?]




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