Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

The Tyger

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

The Tyger

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 seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? and 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 watered 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?

***

It is sad to think that the inspiration behind one of William Blake’s most famous works could soon cease to exist in the wild.

When Blake produced his engraved plate, the tiger was probably as much a myth to people in Europe as the phoenix. There was no TV, no photographs or safari holidays; most people’s awareness of these creatures probably stemmed from travelling shows or skins brought back by aristocrats from the British Raj.

William Blake, visionary

However it was that Blake came upon his Tyger, its majesty reached out to the artist and poet inside him. Many believe his Songs of Innocence and Experience represent the two contrary conditions of the human soul; the lamb representative of innocence, the tiger emblematic of the darker force of creation. But what if the roles have changed? the tiger the innocent – man the frightening beast devouring everything.

According to the WWF, there are estimated to be around 3200 tigers left in the wild. What a tragedy it would be if we were responsible for this beautiful animal’s disappearance. And it’s not just tigers that are in peril. In every corner of the planet − on land or sea – animals of all shapes and sizes are directly threatened as a result of human activities. Sharks, whales, rhinos, turtles, albatross – the list is too long.

Having a creative mind, I gain a lot from the environment around me: the wind blowing through the trees; the empty canvass of a remembered landscape that I can colour with words. Thousands of years ago we had a greater symmetry with nature, one that aided our evolution. It is a relationship we need to rebuild in this technological age.

What chance do we have of keeping alive the wilderness within if we destroy the one without?

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13 thoughts on “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

  1. William Blake is one of my favorites. Don’t remember the exact citation here, but he has said that put a bird in a cage , that man would burn in Hell!!!!

    • I think there was something like that. Had a quick look through his collection and found this in the Schoolboy poem: ‘How can the bird that is born for joy sit in a cage and sing?’

  2. I love this edition of Blake. I had it in college, when I encountered him, and this poem, for the first time. And, yes, tigers themselves are kind of amazing. In some ways, I think it’s too bad that we are so familiar with them. It keeps us from seeing the awe in them. They are just “tigers.”

    • Hi Alisa,
      Great comment. I guess that’s the point I was trying to make in the post – and it relates to more than just tigers. There are very few wilderness areas on the globe that are uncharted now, and for that reason the world loses a little bit of its awe and wonder. Maybe that’s why I like to write speculative fiction.

  3. That was inspiring and another few words that hopefully will resonate with those who might care..enough. Great combination of thought for our co inhabitants and the written word.

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