An Analysis of “The Tyger” by William Blake

This analysis of “The Tyger” by William Blake looks at poetic devices. This includes some tips on how to do a better job capturing the nuances through annotating the text.

Begin your analysis of “The Tyger” by William Blake by printing out the poem and annotating it. As you annotate, mark lines and words that capture your attention–alliteration, the examples of symbolism, and other poetic devices.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forest 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 watered 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?

Poetic Devices and General Observations

Poetic picture with link to poetry lesson plans.

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“The Tyger” originally appeared in Blake’s Songs of Experience. Its companion piece, “The Lamb,” appears in Blake’s Songs of Innocence. An analysis of “The Tyger” should include a comparison to “The Lamb”

  1. Rhyme Scheme – aabb with a near rhyme ending the first and last stanzas, drawing attention to the tiger’s “fearful symmetry.”
  2. Meter and Rhythm – the rhythm is created through short lines and rhyming couplets, similar to “The Lamb.”
  3. Repetition of “Tyger in line 1, “dare” in lines 7 & 8, “heart” in lines 10 & 11, “what” in lines12, 13, & 15, “Did he” in lines 19-20, and several repeats in stanzas 1 & 2 establish the poem’s nursery rhyme like rhythm.
  4. Alliteration – alliteration in “The Tyger” abounds and helps create a sing-song rhythm. Examples include the following.
  • burning bright” (1)
  • distant deeps” (5)
  • what wings” (7)
  • began to beat” (11)
  • dare its deadly” (16)
  • he who” (20)

The question an analysis must answer is what is Blake’s purpose in using so much alliteration in “The Tyger” (other than to create rhythm(see 7 and 8 below)).

5.   Line 1 is an example of synecdoche, a literary device used when a part represents the whole or the whole represents a part. In line 1 “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright” alludes to the predator’s eyes.

6.   Fire imagery includes “burning bright” in line 1, “burnt the fire of thine eyes” in line 6, “in what furnace was thy brain” in line 14, the entire fourth stanza’s resemblance to a forge.

7.   Line 20 contains an allusion to Blake’s poem “The Lamb.” Note the alliteration of “he who” in this line, the most difficult back to back words to say in the entire poem. Coincidence?

8.   Line 20 contains the key to understanding the theme of the poem. Blake asks how is it possible for something as innocent as a lamb and as ferocious as a tiger to exist. How can we account for good and evil in the world? How is it possible that human beings can be both good and evil? It’s a philosophical dilemma that has confounded scholars for centuries. What do you think?

9.   The last stanza serves two purposes: (1) it ties in the first stanza of the poem to the last stanza; (2) it emphasizes the question asked in the previous line.

10.  Symbolism: the meaning of symbolism in “The Tyger” answers the previous question. Examples include: (1) the tiger represents the dangers of mortality; (2) the fire imagery symbolizes trials (baptism by fire perhaps); (3) the forest of the night represents unknown realms or challenges; (4) the blacksmith represents the Creator; (5) the fearful symmetry symbolizes the existence of both good and evil, the knowledge that there is opposition in all things, a rather fearful symmetry indeed. The meaning of symbolism in “The Tyger” is open to interpretation. Feel free to share yours.

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