Creating Blake's Tyger Essay

3743 words - 15 pages

Creating Blake’s “Tyger”


The Eighteenth-century British Romantic, William Blake, was an accomplished painter, engraver, and illustrator during his lifetime, but is best remembered for his poetry. Though Blake’s genius was generally dismissed by the public of his own era and he died with little acclaim, he has since been regarded as one of the greatest figures of the Romantic Movement. Whether with paint or pen, Blake is renowned for his ability to create works of art which, over the years, have succeeded in both amazing and perplexing his audience. “The Tyger,” from his 1794 “Songs of Experience” collection, is one such poem whose elusive meaning is widely debated. The work becomes problematic for readers since, when subjected to strict scrutiny, it opens itself to a broad array of interpretations, all supportable by sections of the text. Line-by-line analysis is helpful in understanding the meaning of certain stanzas, but consideration of how the text operates as a whole is imperative to pinpointing Blake’s purpose in this work. One aspect of the poem upon which most critics agree is that it poses a question regarding creation, asking what immortal created the fearful beast that is the poem’s subject. While one widely accepted interpretation of the poem is that God is presented as the creator, close inspection of the relationship between stanzas, as well as Blake’s word choice throughout, supports an opposing idea: the tyger was created by the Devil.
The first two stanzas work together to present the perplexing question to the tyger that is addressed through the remainder of the poem -- “What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” (3-4). By using the word, “immortal,” Blake gives his readers two immediate options to consider -- the ruler of Heaven or the ruler of Hell, both considered immortal beings. While other “immortals” are created in literature, these two options seem most logical to address first. While this initial step, recognizing the dual meaning of “immortal,” seems fairly obvious, it is often overlooked. When it is called into question, however, the mention of the creator as one who is immortal sparks theories that have been debated for as long as critics have been struggling to break down Blake’s complex work. Burton Raffel, a professional translator and English professor was challenged with the onerous task of rewriting the poem in French. He points out in his 2002 article, published in the Literary Review journal, that many people, at first glance, misinterpret the possibilities for the meaning of the word, “immortal,” by failing to recognize the inherent duality. Raffel asserts initially that, “The word ‘immortal’ assures us, if nothing else does, that God is the undeniable power of whom Blake speaks,” but upon further analysis, Raffel refutes his own argument by asking, “Why then does [Blake] put the matter interrogatively? Is it because he wishes to shed doubt on God's powers?...

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