Original poem reprinted online here: "The Tyger" by William Blake
Originally read: Long time ago, but reread on Writer's Almanac on February 17, 2013
More information about the Poet: William Blake
I think this is a required poem to read. What grade level? Who knows. In any case, I have different outlooks on this poem from when I first read it in high school, broke, college, broke, after college, broke. I've heard some very interesting perspective about this poem, but to be honest, the poem lends itself to interpretation through the use of rhetorical questions (not the questions themselves, how they operate) and the images (which range from nature to allusive to industrial). So I'm going to post down some of the interpretations I've heard an how they are argued. Note two very important background information about this poem:
1) This poem is found in "The Song of Experience" which sets up a sense of time, distance, age to the poems in the collection. This implication is relied heavily on for analysis.
2) The poem is a companion poem. It's companion is "The Lamb" which is found in "The Song of Innocence" which indicates a contrast through the distance of separate poems rather than stanzas or within the same book even. This implication is also heavily reliled on.
One person I knew argued this poem was against the idea of industrialization that the Tyger represents one visceral and violent side of progress versus the Lamb which is a symbol of the innocence used to create progress. Both sides represent the proletariat side.
However, the "creator" who owns all the tools "hammer" "furna and makes both the lamb and the tyger represents the bourgeoisie -- "he" creates but doesn't take responsibility for the creation only the profit of recognition from the speaker (recognition is just as important as money to the bourgeoisie -- apparently).
This criticism focuses on the speakers perspective. See how the poem is in rhymed couplets in quatrains. Yes, there is the difference between the lamb and the tyger -- but the poem is not about the difference. Rather the poem brings both ideas to a parallel.
The rhetorical questions then are represent the idea of the Sublime. Even though Blake style here is different than the usage of the sublime in Coleridge and Wordsworth, the pounding of the rhetorical questions show a sense of being overwhelmed by a creation in nature.
The question are directed at the creator, not looking for an answer, rather addressing the strengths and wonder of the creature for example, "what immortal hand or eye, / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry" (emphasis mine). The focus here is the hand or eye and how "immortal" or immortalized they are.
[last one -- "The Lamb" came up for a poem a day, I'll probably use other criticism I've heard there]
This one is not even an actual literary criticism. If I had to rename it, it would be Religious Criticism, but the Atheist adjective gets to the point. For this type of analysis, the focus is on the implication of the background and reading into tone.
The over usage of rhetorical questions in this poem especially, and especially toward the creator shows the lack of answer or judgement from the creator. With each question there's a sense of fear without answer, "And when thy heart began to beat, / What dread hand? & what dread feet?" See how the turn happens with the adjective of "dread" as though the speaker had to create the judgement of the creation. This creation is to be feared not to be adored.
And there's a sense of a frustrated silent surrender with the first stanza repeated at the end, as though the speaker wants answers, yet is unable to get concrete answers from above on why something so terrifying was created.
[So this is what I heard and how the arguments are constructed -- yes there's holes in all of them, and my own personal interpretation is skewed by these argument -- for better or for worse.]