Tyger, Tyger, a fire snuffed out

The Romantic poet William Blake wrote, in the age of European colonial expansion and encounter with Asian fauna:

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tigers in the wild could be extinct in only 12 years if extreme conservation measures are not taken. Blake knew “tygers” only from natural histories and travelogues. His was a literary tiger, a symbol of the dark side of the divine (he probably belonged to a sect with Gnostic tendencies). Are all future generations doomed to know these marvels of nature only as a literary trope? And, how ironic that Blake saw the work of an “immortal” hand in the creation of the tiger, whereas they were to be ephemeral and gone only a couple of centuries after he wrote, a symbol of mortal cupidity and insouciance rather than of divine creativity.

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

3 Responses

  1. “Tyger, Tyger, a fire snuffed out”

    Thank you, Professor Cole and “Informed Comment”:
    Although you are recognized mainly for your laser-like focus on the Middle East, there is no other single source I have found that is so able or willing—day in and day out—to bring readers such diverse and scholarly work. Your labor and commitment to humanity is greatly appreciated.

  2. It doesn’t take an immortal hand, just an AK-47 or FAL or deadfall. And think of the gentlemen of so many cultures who will experience the eerie arousing placebo effect of powdered tiger penis or pancreas or spleen or a dusting of rhino horn on their daily laxative.

  3. Dear People,

    If we do screw things up that badly — and I have no doubt we can do that if our American “conservatives” continue as stupidly as they have been, and our American “progressives” continue as lazy and disorganized as we have been — then it’s not just the tigers who will be gone.

    It’ll be us and our so-called civilization as well.

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