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William Blake

The Tyger

Wrap your mind around these ones!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poet looks at the power and yet the terror of the tiger and asks questions about its creation.

He uses the image of God as a blacksmith, beating the tiger into existence in the same way as a blacksmith beats metal into shape.

But, asks the poet, is this the same Creator God as the one who shaped the lamb? Indeed, is this the same God as the one who is the Father of Jesus Christ?


William Blake was born in London in November 1757. He lived most of his life in that city.

When he was 10 years of age, he attended a drawing school and thereafter made engraving his profession, graduating from the Royal Academy at the age of 22.

He was then employed as an engraver to a bookseller and publisher, where he was responsible for creating metal picture plates for making illustrations in books.

In 1783, Blake published his first volume of poems and thereafter established his own engraving business. This enabled him to publish poetry in a way in which no other poet was doing: by incorporating his text into engraved picture plates.

This would have remarkable consequences. First, the pictures were artistic renditions of the theme and were not meant to be accurate. Second, each and every picture appeared in a slightly different shade of colour so that it is difficult today to determine which colour was the original.

Move your mouse over the picture below to see an example of his engraving for "The Tyger".

Blake's best poems are found in just two collections: Songs of Innocence which he published in 1789; and Songs of Experience although this was not published on its own.

Indeed, his complete works was published in 1794 and was called Songs of Innocence and Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.

Blake was regarded in his time as very strange, if not somewhat mad. In fact, his ideas make more sense to us today than they did to his contemporaries.

He was a Christian but in a very unorthodox sense. Indeed, he appears to have been what we today call a Gnostic Christian.

The Gnostics believed in the inner power of wisdom which guides us.

They also believed in two Gods. The first was the God who created material things: like the world, the animals and humans. The second was the God who created the things of the spirit: like the human soul.

The first God is responsible for all the nasty things in life: like suffering and pollution and dreadful industrialisation. The second God is responsible for all the wonderful things in life: like salvation, the human spirit and, of course, Jesus Christ.

Study "The Tyger" carefully. Can you not see the existence of two Gods there? The one God created the Tyger while the other created the Lamb.

At the time that Blake wrote "The Tyger", people knew very little about wild animals. Perhaps they might have seen a lion in a circus but almost no-one would have seen a tiger.

A tiger therefore came to represent something to Blake, and it is this that he tries to portray in his poem, "The Tyger".

But what is he trying to tell us? Is it, in the words of his anthology in which this poem was published, something about "the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul"?

Blake died in August 1827. He was then 70 years of age.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

The entire poem focuses on the Creator God. But is this God presented in Christian terms? Explain. (10)

[Need help?]

What image is consistently used throughout the poem to depict the Creator God? How does the poet achieve this image through his choice of words and rhythm? (10)

[Need help?]

When Blake published "The Tyger" in 1794, few of his readers would actually have seen a tiger. They were simply regarded as amazing beasts which existed in far away India. In fact, the poet himself had probably never seen a real tiger except perhaps in the form of a floor rug in some elite household.
  • Is Blake's description of the Tyger, therefore, real or imaginary? (10)

[Need help?]

When Blake wrote "The Tyger", England was in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. Is this reflected in any way in this poem? (10)

[Need help?]

"The Tyger" was published as part of Blake's Songs of Experience, in contrast to "The Lamb" which formed part of his Songs of Innocence.
  • In what way can "The Tyger" be said to be a "song of experience"? (10)

[Need help?]

A rhetorical question is one which does not need an answer, or one where the answer is obvious.
  • "The Tyger" is full of questions which the poet does not answer. Are they therefore rhetorical? Or is there another reason for his not answering them? (10)

[Need help?]

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