The Tyger

Popular Poetry Course Poetry | IPA Symbols | Pronunciation

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Written sometime between 1790 and 1792, Blake's The Tyger is one of the most famous of English poems much loved by children and adults alike. The poem asks questions about what sort of creator would come up with something as fearful as a tiger. This lesson will teach you the poem, some background details about the poet, the vocabulary in the poem, and the IPA symbols used to represent the pronunciation of the poem. There is much debate today about the pronunciation of the words eye and symmetry and whether in Blake's time they rhymed or not.

Popular Poetry Course

The Tyger

by William Blake (1757-1827) 

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

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, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & 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 water'd 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?

 

William Blake (1757-1827) was a visionary English poet, painter, and printmaker. Considered mad by his contemporaries because of his eccentric views, he enjoyed little literary success during his lifetime. He left school aged ten and was educated at home by his mother, who allowed him to read the subjects that most appealed to him. He was greatly influenced by the Bible which in turn influenced much of his work. His early love of drawing saw him apprenticed to an engraver, a profession he took up after his apprenticeship ended.

Written sometime between 1790 and 1792, Blake's The Tyger is one of the most famous of English poems much loved by children and adults alike. The poem asks questions about what sort of creator would come up with something as fearful as a tiger. It questions if the same person who created the Lamb could also have created something as terrifying as a tiger. Despite posing many questions, the poet does not attempt to provide answers, though he leads us to the inescapable conclusion that he who made the Lamb made the tiger, too.

The poem is composed of six stanzas of four lines each, and each stanza has two rhyming couplets (AABB) except for the first and last stanzas which don't have rhyming last lines. Some of the lines have seven syllables while others have eight. The insistent beat of the three stressed and three unstressed syllables (OoOoOoOo) in the fourth stanza brings to mind the steady hammer blows of the blacksmith forging the fearsome tiger in the blazing furnace of creation.

There is much debate today about the pronunciation of the words eye and symmetry and whether in Blake's time they rhymed or not. Is it possible that the eccentric Blake deliberately chose to use the word symmetry because it did not rhyme with eye, much as he chose to use the archaic spelling of tyger for tiger? Or perhaps the vowel sounds in eye and symmetry were closer in the 18th century than today, though we also see the words skies and eyes in a rhyming couplet in the second stanza. This suggests that skies, eyes, and symmetry, all rhymed back then if rhyming had been the poet's intent.

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