Practical Criticism: The Tyger William Blake
Blake's poem "The Tyger" - written somewhere between 1785 and 1789 -
was first published in Songs of Innocence and Experience. These two
interconnected books of poetry were intended to show the "two contrary
states of the human soul. Appropriately enough "The Tyger" appeared in
the second book, Experience, and has as its natural counter part "The
Lamb" in Innocence. "The Tyger" as a poem is a perennial international
favourite. It has been more frequently and widely published than any
other poem in English.
The diction and rhyme scheme of both poems suggest they were written
for children which is ostensibly the intended audience for the Songs.
However the choice of words and cadence works on far deeper levels
than just creating a palatable nursery-rhyme rhythm for children. The
lively trochaic metre, aswell as suggesting a nursery rhyme, could be
likened to a chant or invocation. The repetition of "Tyger! Tyger!"
with its double exclamation marks support this idea. It gives the
whole poem a quasi-religious tone which is maintained - albeit
ambiguously - throughout the poem. Simultaneously the exclaimed
repetition of "Tyger! Tyger!" could be seen as an awed whisper, a
terrified cry or an oath of some kind. The immediate stressed
syllables at the start of the foot (Ty - ger! Ty - ger!) introduce an
element of panic or of rapt, awestruck wonder. As if the narrator (and
the reader) are placed directly before the tiger wrapped in its coat
The use of the words "Burning bright" emphasise the otherworldly
nature of Blake's particular Tyger. The imagery is vivid, immediate
and memorable. It suggests blazing colour (stark contrast to the
verdure "..forests of the night). The tiger is a fiery creature and
the urgency of fire is intensified by the exclamatory punctuation and
the use of the continuous present with "Burning bright". In fact the
imagery of the poem is arguably its most striking feature. There is
repeated reference to flames with
"Burnt the fire of thine eyes?" and use of words like "furnace" This
automatically, within the context of the poem and of Songs as a whole,
conjures up images of a puritanical vision of hell intimating the
tiger satanic roots (see below).
In the first stanza the alliteration of 't' and 'b', two hard
consonants, enhances the sense of tension. When read aloud the
alliteration encourages rapid reading and an staccato beat which
encourages an audience to becomes involved in the urgency of the
images. The four beats striking fairly evenly on each line and the
'aabb' rhyme scheme allows ease and speed of reading aswell as
directing concentration of the reader onto image rather than form.
"The Tyger" is, aswell as being a strikingly visual poem, a very
sonorous one. The regular beat, hard consonants and stressed first
syllable provides and unstoppable beat which echoes the thump of the
tigers heartbeat in stanza...