William Blake was a mystic poet who pondered upon the mysteries of the universe and sought to unravel them. In his poem “the tiger,” Blake questions the need of god to create such a ferocious and destructive animal after having created a harmless and gentle one as the lamb already, thus pondering upon the dichotomy of creation, i.e. to have two branching aspects to every aspect, positive as well as harmful. Thus, the poem’s central theme deals with this dichotomy as he asks why the same creator could create both the lamb and the tiger, whose creation seems like an eternal puzzle to him.
The poem begins with the line “Tiger, tiger burning bright,” in which the word “tiger” is repeated to make it seem as if the poet is addressing the tiger itself and achieve emphasis. The words “burning bright,” which show alliteration through the plosive “b,” identify the tiger with fire, thus casting fire as the central image in the poem. The poet associates the tiger with fire because of their very similar characteristics. They both are violent, wild, ferocious, ruthless and destructive, devastating etc., not to mention, they resemble each other as well.
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A tiger in the dark would look just like fire with its stripes of orange and black! In the second line of the poem, which is “in the forest of the night,” the poet associates the tiger with darkness as well as wilderness through “the forest of the night” which is in contrast with “burning bright”. In the next line of the poem the poet shifts from the tiger to its creator. The poet questions the immorality of the creator and is sure that he is immortal or the tiger would certainly turn around and kill its creator on being created itself! Such is the nature of this animal.
He ponders upon the hands that made and the eyes [of the creator] that watched as the hands made the perfect and flawless structure of the tiger which the marvellous creator was able to give the tiger as inline “frame they fearful symmetry”. In the next stanza, the poet wonders where the fire used to make the eyes of the tiger was derived from. Was it taken from the heights of heaven or the depths of hell? Coming back to the creator, he ponders upon the wings of the creator to be able to fly to such extreme highs and lows. The hands he must have actually to take the fire and carry it back and in the line “what the hand dare seize the fire.” In the last two lines of the stanza, the word “dare” is repeated and implies the creator’s courage, challenge, and power.
In the third stanza, the poet ponders upon the physical strength and the mental ability of the creator to plan as well as carry out the creation of the tiger as in the line “ad what shoulder and what art could twist the sinews of the heart in which the “shoulder” symbolizes physical ability and “art” stands for imagination. He asks what kind of shoulders or muscles the creator has to bend and twist the muscles of the heart of the tiger while being made. Through the word “twist”, the poet implies the hardness of the heart of the tiger [because of its violent character].
He also asks about the imagination of the creator to actually think of such a thing as the tiger and then make its shape so flawlessly. And in the following line, the poet says that the moment when the tiger comes alive is dreadful. The coming to life of the tiger is terrible and frightening. In the next stanza, the poet pictures the making of the tiger’s brain. He says that the tiger’s brain was indeed made in a furnace as in the line “what the hammer, what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain?”
By this, the poet is trying to tell us that the tiger’s brain, [which is a delicate organ], is so hard that it could only be made in a place like a furnace through which he associates the tiger with heat and power. He asks about the tools which were good enough to be used on such an unyielding object and the table as in “anvil,” which was excellent and dense enough for such a piece to be placed on and shaped. The tiger’s brain is said to be hard because he is filled with violent thoughts, and so the creator ponders upon the hammer, which must have been used to mend it, having placed it on an anvil. Then the poet ponders about the daring hands of the creator, which held on to the brain while it was being given its shape.
In the second last stanza of the poem, the poet talks about the reaction of the rest of the universe [the positive forces] to the creation and introduction of such a being and the reaction of the creator himself. The stars and the lamb are used to represent all the positive things in the world whereas the tiger symbolizes all the negativities. The stars have realized that by the creation of the tiger, violence, cruelty, destruction, bloodshed along danger have been let loose in the universe and harm the innocent. The poet feels that the stars, as an act of surrender threw down their spears, acknowledging defeat to a superior force, the tiger.
They must have watered heaven with their tears of grief. Then the poet wonders about the creator and what he must have acted like after creating a perfect destructor. He wonders if the creator had smiled at his creation and whether he was satisfied for indeed he had not made one such ferocious being by accident as in the line “did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the lamb make thee?” the poet projects a sense of bafflement, amazed at how the same creator who had already created the good [lamb] be pleased with all.
The last stanza is a repetition of the first stanza, which would be necessary to complete the symmetry of the poem as the poem reflects the theme of dichotomy in the structure of the poem. The only difference is that the word “could” is replaced with the word “dare.” This is because the mystery of how the tiger was made has been solved, but the question now is who has the ultimate power to make it.
Structure and tone: The poem is a perfect and well-made poem that reflects the poem’s theme, which deals with dichotomy. It has stanzas of equal length with a perfect rhyme scheme of AABB. As for the dichotomy, we see that the first stanza is repeated to complete the symmetry, contrast, as in “burning bright” and “forest of the night,” and the contrast of hand and feet in the line “what dread hand and what dread feet.” The symbolism is in the representation of the tiger and the stars and lamb of the positive and negative forces. The poem has a series of rhetorical questions that make you agree with the poet and the poem itself. The poem thus gives the poem a perfect structure by reflecting dichotomy throughout.