“Tyger, Tyger” By William Blake


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?

Blake’s song is about innocence and experience, innocence of the lamb coexisting with the experience of the tiger. When the Creator made them , did he forge them alike , when their natures are so diametrically opposite? Was it the same God who made them both?

The experience of the tiger comes from the fires of the smithy that fashoned it. Those are hell-fires of Mephistophilis, ferocious in their evil.But it is made by the same God who made the innocent beauty of the lamb. The tiger burns bright , its eyes glowing coals of experience. There is beauty in it, born of a symmetry carefully crafted by a loving hand and a beauty eye. Why would God smile his work to see? Perhaps to see so much beauty in violence,accomplished in the same way as beauty in the lamb’s innocence.

The immortal eye or hand would frame the fearful symmetry lest it not overflow and contradict the lamb’s innocence.The intellectual cannot grasp a reality where symmetry can be so fearful, a paradox in which violence is integral part of beauty and becomes truth.A logical bottleneck is in the acceptance of a reality where the beauty of innocence co-exists with the symmetry of experience. Experience is the hell-fires that fashion the tiger’s symmetry, the deftness with which the hand and the eye have fashioned its form , a form that pleases the senses despite its fearfulness.

Only an immortal eye or hand could “frame” such a fearful symmetry. The metaphor used is smithy with tools like the hammer , the chain and the furnace. Framing would imply containing the contradicting elements of the composition – beauty of the tiger’s form with the fierceness of its posture. The fearfulness is accomplished by twisting the sinews of its heart with an amazing art and by a powerful shoulder. The tiger is beautiful form pleasing to the eye but its fierceness flows from its heart , a terror achieved after the sinews are hammered into place and the heart starts beating.

Once the heart starts beating, what hand dare seize the fire,what wings aspire! Who is the “he” who is supposed to aspire on wings? Surely not Icarus of waxen wings aspiring to the sun or the child monkey God of the Hindu pantheon who climbed the skies to eat the fruit of a sun and burnt his mouth red.

What immortal hand or eye dare
Frame they fearful symmetry

A mortal hand or eye cannot dare frame such symmetry .It will be singed by the fires of the tiger’s being.It is only God who can dare to do it or clasp its deadly terrors. It is He who created its symmetry.To frame is to capture the very essence of the tiger’s being.

Some lovely usages that have caught my fancy are

Burning bright
Burning bright denotes more light than heat

The forests of the night
A beautiful mixing of space with time

Immortal hand or eye

Hand or eye is hand or eye in the abstract because it is part of an immortal body. hand because the blacksmith forges with his hand to shape but uses eye to decide proportions.

Frame
Frame is used here in the context of taming uncontrolled nature, in order to bring about symmetry

Aspire
I am not sure if the poet meant the aspiring Icarus whose wings melted in the sun.

In what distant deeps
In the netherworld that is hell with its blazing fires

Did he smile his work to see?
I love the line for the simplicity of this highly graphic image . God smiles down on the tiger with an artist’s pleasure ( looking at the work of art he had created)

What shoulder , What art
Shoulder is the smith’s physical labour involved in shaping the object. Art is the brain involved in bringing symmetry to the finished product.

Twisting the sinews of thy heart
The process of forging the heart is almost physical like twisting the sinews tightly to ensure they are in place.

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