Britlish

The Tyger

Popular Poetry Course Poetry | IPA Symbols | Pronunciation | Vocabulary | Literature | Listenings

Poetry

Because of their structure, poems are a great way of learning about the rhythm of the English language. In these Activities you will be able to listen to poetry, read it, and then improve your knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols, thus improving your pronunciation. The Activities also include information about the poets and some background to the writing of the poem. Finally, you will have the chance to test how much you have learned about the vocabulary and other aspects of the poems through some interactive exercises.

IPA Symbols

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation that was devised in the 19th century as a standardised way of representing the sounds of speech in written form. The British English IPA chart consists of 44 symbols representing the pure vowels (monophthongs), the gliding vowels (diphthongs), and the consonant sounds of spoken British English. The Britlish Library contains a wealth of Activities to help you to learn, remember, and use the British English IPA symbols efficiently whether you are a student or a teacher.

Pronunciation

No matter how good your English grammar and vocabulary may be, if your pronunciation is so bad that nobody can understand a word you say, then your English won't be much good as a means of communication. You might be good at grammar, have a broad vocabulary, and be able to explain all the aspects and tenses of English, but it's not much good if you can't be understood when you speak. I have designed these Activities to help you to improve your pronunciation, as well as other areas of your English.

Vocabulary

Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.

Literature

Some students like to sit back and listen to some interesting English. It doesn't get much more interesting than some of the old classics from English literature. These Activities have been created to help you get the best from the vocabulary found in some of the old classics. As you listen and read your way through these Activities, you will also broaden your understanding of English culture.

Listenings

Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.  

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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.

Popular Poetry

There are many poems that are recognised, if not known, by many people, and which have become cultural icons. Far from being dead or irrelevant, poetry still maintains the capacity to strike deep at the heart of what it means to be English. These poems are as English as cathedrals and castles, Maypoles and Morris dancers and should be read and enjoyed by all English speakers and by those who aspire to understand more of what it means to be English.

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Sonnet 18

The most famous and well-known of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets is undoubtedly Sonnet 18 which begins, Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? This lesson looks at the pronunciation of the sonnet as well as providing a modern English translation of the sonnet to make it easier to understand. The lesson also looks at some of the old, obsolete language of Shakespeare, in particular the thee, thy, thou which appear in this sonnet. There is a full British English IPA phonetic transcript of the sonnet, too, to help students improve their knowledge and use of the 44 IPA symbols in British English.

Categories: Poetry | Pronunciation | Vocabulary | IPA Symbols | Literature | Listenings


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The Example

A poem from the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies (1871-1940) to help you with your pronunciation and the rhythm of English through British English IPA transcripts. There is a full British English IPA phonetic transcript of the poem, too, to help students improve their knowledge and use of the 44 IPA symbols in British English, and some biographical information about the poet.

Categories: Poetry | IPA Symbols | Pronunciation | Vocabulary | Literature | Listenings


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The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

This nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, by Edward Lear, is much loved by children and adults alike because of its rhythm and nonsensical story. It was written for the three-year-old daughter of a friend and published in 1871 in the book Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets. Enjoy the poem and learn some new vocabulary while improving your pronunciation skills.

Categories: Poetry | IPA Symbols | Pronunciation | Vocabulary | Literature | Listenings


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