Letters of Life

The Tiger

TIGER, tiger, 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 and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and 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?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
—-William Blake, 1757–1827

In the context of Chinese New Year, I present this classic poem.

It is one of English poet William Blake’s most famous poems, published in 1794. I memorised it in secondary school, and the first verse has stayed with me since. It brings to the fore God as Creator, in the form of a strong and able blacksmith forging the fearful beast with iron tools. There’s so much more behind the force and choice of the words, the economy of which makes it all the more indelible in the mind. Considering also Blake’s disciplined use of meter and rhyme, it’s obvious why this is possibly Blake’s most popular of poems for any English student.

There is a companion poem to this, the Lamb (yes, another post).

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2 Responses »

  1. I always preferred ‘tyger’ because it seemed to match the vowels on display in ‘symmetry’ and ‘eye’. But ‘bryght’ and ‘nyght’ would have been too much, I suppose… 🙂

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