Friday, January 23, 2009

The Tyger

The Tyger
By William Blake
01 The Tyger.
02 Tyger Tyger. burning bright,
03 In the forests of the night;
04 What immortal hand or eye.
05 Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
06 In what distant deeps or skies.
07 Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
08 On what wings dare he aspire?
09 What the hand, dare sieze the fire?
10 And what shoulder, & what art,
11 Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
12 And when thy heart began to beat,
13 What dread hand? & what dread feet?
14 What the hammer? what the chain,
15 In what furnace was thy brain?
16 What the anvil? what dread grasp.
17 Dare its deadly terrors clasp:
18 When the stars threw down their spears
19 And water'd heaven with their tears:
20 Did he smile his work to see?
21 Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
22 Tyger Tyger burning bright,
23 In the forests of the night;
24 What immortal hand or eye,
25 Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

I found “The Tyger” by William Blake incredible. After ruminating upon it, it seems really subversive, but it is very subtle. He is able to package all of his radical theological claims in a children’s poem.

The poem tackles the problem of natural evil—an ethical dilemma that thousands of theologians, philosophers, and everyday citizens have wrangled with since the dawn of civilization. Why do natural tragedies, like earthquakes, tidal waves, and volcanoes, exist? Does this disprove the existence of God? Or is the world naturally evil? It is one of the unanswerable questions of human existence.
Blake discusses this issue in a very interesting way, and covers it all with imagery and symbolism. The “tyger” in this poem represents natural evil; he is terrifyingly huge, cunning, and powerful. But he is part of the natural world. Line 21 asks the underlying question of natural evil: “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” Did God, who created the harmless and innocent (not to mention tasty) lamb, also create the murderous tiger?

However, I would not say Blake is personally criticizing the existence of tigers. The tiger seems to have as much right to live and do his thing as the lamb. The narrator seems to have it wrong. He is so terrified by this animal that he is blinded to the natural cycle of thing. I feel Blake, as a Romanticist, would say the tiger is as beautiful as the lamb because both are of the natural world. We are supposed to see that the narrator is mistaken in his initial judgment of the natural world. Although the tiger can be scary, it’s also awe-inspiring.

We talked briefly in class about how beat-poet extraordinaire Allen Ginsberg would perform this poem live. I’m in an advanced directing class (as a theatre major), and one of our assignments is to devise our own piece. I think I’m going to bring it in, because there are some fascinating elements that would make in a multi-faceted piece of theatre. Obviously, there are the questions concerning natural evil, but then there is the dynamic of the terrified narrator versus the somewhat docile-looking tiger (according to the image on the plate). I think it would be a strong candidate for the basis of a theatrical work. Wow, isn’t it fun to cross-reference classes?

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