William Blake Ponders the Source of Evil in "The Tyger"

The Tyger Poem and Artwork by William Blake

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(first stanza)

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


Tyger! Tyger! 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, & what art

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat

What dread hand? & 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?


And 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?

~by William Blake (Nov. 8, 1757 - Aug. 12, 1827)


William Blake Ponders the Source of Evil

What about everything you see around you--did the world that you see everyday just happen or was there a divine being who created it all? And if the belief in a divine creator is true, do you ever wonder if He was the source of evil as well as good?

William Blake, a poet who considered himself a Christian, pondered such notions in "The Tyger" (546-47). While the poem could be interpreted from many different viewpoints, explicating the poem reveals the complexity of Blake's inner struggling. According to "Milton," as well as many of his other poems and etchings, William Blake believed in God and Satan, and in angels and demons (237). In "The Tyger," written in trochaic tetrameter, Blake effectively uses a variety of poetic devices to reveal his inner quest to know if God created Satan.

In the first stanza, Blake is not merely looking at an animal and wondering how it was made, but he is using the animal allegorically. Blake speaks directly to the tyger, an animal who lives in dark, secret places--"in the forests of the night" (l. 2). The fierceness and cunningness of the tiger that lurks in the darkness seeking out its prey is a metaphor that gives the reader a vivid mental picture of who believers call Satan, the enemy of God.

Blake does not view the tyger as a dimly burning animal, but as "bright" (l. 1) and full of fire or hell, suggesting that the devil is not a weak being. He questions, "what immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" (ll. 3-4). The word "immortal" is used because it is clear that no human could create the "fearful" creature that has him so intrigued.


(second stanza)

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?

(third stanza)

And what shoulder, & what art

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

In the second stanza, Blake continues questioning the source of this creature. He asks the tyger from what "deeps or skies" (l.5) he came from and who made his "eyes" of "fire" (l. 6). Blake does not have an answer yet but is searching for it. As in lines 3 and 4, in lines 7 and 8, Blake switches from talking about the tyger to talking about the tyger's creator, an immortal being with "wings" (l. 7). He wonders whose "hand" would "dare [to] seize" (l. 8) this ferocious beast.

Blake continues with his questioning in the third stanza. He asks, "What shoulders and what art,/ Could twist the sinews of thy heart?" (ll. 9-10). He could possibly be reflecting on what wisdom and creativity the Almighty must possess to create such and intricate organ, but it is also possible that Blake is not being literal and is using imagery and Biblical language to express something much deeper.


Satan's Fall From Heaven

Artwork by Joel Chua
Artwork by Joel Chua

It is believed by many Christians that Satan, in his earliest state, was a beautiful angel called Lucifer, who, when pride was conceived in his heart, became twisted and arrogant according to Ezekiel 28:2-19. Afterward, it is believed Satan became the most frightening of all creatures and was cast out of heaven and into the earth and hell where he no resides. Blake further writes, "And when thy heart began to beat" (l. 11) as Satan's heart--the one that can now no longer think rationally or righteously, but is now perverse in judgement--and oh! "What dread hand? & what dread feet?" (l. 12)--possibly suggesting how frightening this newly formed creature is who now walks about the earth and does such terrible things.


(fourth stanza)

What the hammer? What the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? What dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

In the fourth stanza, Blake continues with the thought he began in line 8--the picture of a blacksmith pulling softened ore from the "furnace" (l. 14) to begin his creation. What kind of "anvil" (l. 15) was the devil's "brain" (l. 14) put on, and what kind of supernatural being could "grasp" (l. 15) the "hammer" (l. 13) to beat and mold such a creature? And who or what would "dare" to acquire such "deadly terrors" (l. 16) to put within Satan? Blake still does not have an answer; yet he is still searching.

(fifth stanza)

And 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?

In the fifth stanza, figuratively using nature's objects, Blake ponders heaven's viewpoint. He speaks of stars "crying" and "throwing down their spears" (ll. 17-18). Throughout the scriptures, stars represent angels--both good and evil. Just before the fall of Lucifer, it is believed that Lucifer wanted to have more power and praise than God Himself. Isaiah 14:13 states that Lucifer said, "I will ascend into heaven, / I will exalt my throne above the stars of God." With part of the angels on his side, he began a revolt in heaven. It is believed that Lucifer lost and the angels who rebelled with him became fallen angels, too.

Although this is unclear, Blake could possibly be picturing the end of this tragic war when the angels threw down their weapons. And then Blake asks, "Did [God] smile his work to see? / Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" (ll. 19-20). Yes, it is true that Blake could be questioning if tigers and lambs were made by the same Creator, but another interpretation seems to better fit (especially since Genesis clearly states that God made all animals).

Literally, the tiger is an aggressive predator that has no sympathy for its victims and the lamb is a very passive animal that does no harm to other creatures; hence, the tiger represents wickedness and the lamb, innocence. The "Lamb" (which Blake capitalizes) represents Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed on a cross for the sins of mankind--the doctrine that has its type and shadow hidden in the Old Testament tabernacle where sacrifices (which included lambs) were believed to atone yearly for the sins of the children of Israel. Did this God who loved mankind so much that He sent His Son to earth to die as a sacrificial lamb, also create the devil who causes mankind so much harm? And if God did indeed make Satan, was God pleased with His work just as He was pleased on the seventh day of creation?

In the sixth stanza, Blake repeats the first stanza with the exception of changing one word in the last line--"dare" took the place of "could":

"Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry ?" (ll. 21-24)

At first he questioned, "Who could actually make you who you are, Satan?" In the end, he cannot fathom who would dare to actually do it. If God were the devil's creator, why would He endeavor such an undertaking? If it really is so, what had to be deep within Jehovah God in order to bring about this work of His hands? But, God is loving; God is kind; God is merciful...why would He do such a thing? His question is never answered. Blake is left just as intrigued in the end as he was in the beginning of his effort to understand the source of the devil.

William Blake, in his use of poetic devices, clearly shows his curiosity of the origin of the devil, metaphorically juxtaposed as a tiger. This poem, written approximately 200 years ago, embodies a question that is still a bewildering one for many believers today. For some Christians there is no need for such questioning; they believe God made Lucifer beautiful and perfect just as He made Adam in the Garden of Eden, but like Adam, Lucifer's own transgressions were what changed him. But for others, those like William Blake, they wonder, "If God is such a benevolent, loving, caring God, why would He make such a horrifying and wicked being who causes so much harm in our world?"

Blake, William. "The Tyger." The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Sarah Lawall, Maynard Mack. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 546-47

Johnson, Mary Lynn and John E. Grant, Ed. "Milton." Blake's Poetry and Designs.New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979. 237-306.


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Comments 10 comments

barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 6 years ago from Queensland Australia

I rember stugying this poem back at English Literature 101 in the 1980.s love your interpretation very much will nominate your hub...


MyInfo411 profile image

MyInfo411 6 years ago Author

Thank you, Barry. It was one of my favorite papers to write in college.


shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 6 years ago from Great Britain

What a fascinating interpretation and analysis. Well done:)


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets Nomination! To visit the Hubnuggets, follow this way please: http://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/The-Maltese-F...


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America

This is one of my favorite poems, which I first saw on a plaque in the Cincinnati Zoo in the Big Cat House when I was a teen. I had wrote them long ago and they sent me a copy of it. :)


Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

Congrats on being selected as one of the HubNuggets Wannabe nominees. Good luck to ya! :)


Valux profile image

Valux 6 years ago from Florida, USA

William Blake is my favorite poet of all time and I have to say I love your interpretation here. I look forward to reading your others hubs, definately vote up on this one! :-)


Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK

A thorough interpretation of, I think my favourite poem by Blake. It ponders questions which are still so relevant today. Some have likened the poem to the powerful machinary of the Industrial Revolution, the strong rhythm, created by the trochaic tetrameter. It's the opposite of the Iambic pentameter isn't it? (If I should die, think only this of me....)

I haven't really looked at Blake since school, but this was a very nice welcome back!

A great hub thank you


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

I love Blake. This was one of my favorite poems read in college. What a very nice job you have done here presenting everyone with this poem and providing a very helpful analysis. Thanks much.


Jayhawk 22 months ago

Unelviblabee how well-written and informative this was.

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