Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Blake's best known short poem is from Songs of Innocence and Experience (E24): The Tyger

"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 sieze 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!

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?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

A second occurrence of the line from Tyger, ' the stars threw down their spears,' appears in the Four Zoas, Night Five, Plate 64 (E344). Urizen is speaking.

"O Fool could I forget the light that filled my bright spheres
Was a reflection of his face who calld me from the deep

I well remember for I heard the mild & holy voice
Saying O light spring up & shine & I sprang up from the deep
He gave to me a silver scepter & crownd me with a golden crown
& said Go forth & guide my Son who wanders on the ocean

I went not forth. I hid myself in black clouds of my wrath
I calld the stars around my feet in the night of councils dark
The stars threw down their spears & fled naked away
We fell. I siezd thee dark Urthona In my left hand falling

I siezd thee beauteous Luvah"

Judging from the amount of interest there is in Blake's Tyger, it hooks into an archetypal reality which is easily activated. There is much agreement that Tyger is saying something important, but little agreement on what it is saying. Here is another stab.

One mystifying line in the poem, "when the stars threw down their spears," appears also in the Four Zoas at a critical moment when Urizen/Satan refuses obedience to the Almighty. At that point a chain reaction begins - with the stars. So the line in Tyger reminds us of the cataclysmic event when Urizen fell and took with him Urthona and Luvah.

Three Zoas Falling

It is easy for me to see Tyger as autobiographical. The conflict within Blake of his reason and imagination, is expressed in the dynamic battle between Urizen and Los thoughout Blake's myth. The tyger himself can represent the battlefield Blake sees within. Forces of beauty, restraint, explosive activity and expanded consciousness compete for dominance. Blake's struggle is to achieve that balance which will allow his imagination a free reign of expression, without becoming an uncontrolled destructive force.

Look at the words in Tyger that make one think
of Los: fire, hammer, anvil, furnace, chain;
of Urizen: bright, aspire, seize, stars;
of Luvah: heart, began to beat;
of Jesus: tears, smile, work, Lamb.

The multiple parts within the human mind make possible an internal state of competition. But the use of the word 'symmetry' signifies to me the balanced pattern in which Blake saw the Four Zoas as aspects of the psyche. The symmetry becomes fearful when the delicate alignment is disturbed. We have seen how every aspect of the Divine Humanity is affected by any refusal of a Zoa to accept his appointed role. (See blog post Fallen Zoas) All are 'members of one another'. (Paul - Ephesians 4:25)

The Tyger's fascination may come from the unresolved tension which it portrays - a state we each frequently experience.

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