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poetry - example essay

The following essay written by a Year 10 student would probably be given a grade 'A'.

An Appreciation of William Blake's Poem, 'The Tyger'

The Tyger
by William Blake (1792)

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 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 forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

What is immediately obvious to me in Blake's 'The Tyger' is the powerful rhythm the poet has created coupled with the apparent simplicity but great power of the language. Blake does this by using repetition, stress and rhythm, reinforcing this further by punctuation and alliteration ('Tyger! Tyger! burning bright'). The strong rhyme adds yet further to the power of the lines and the images they create. The power which comes from this apparent simplicity is, perhaps, what makes the poem so memorable. It would be an easy poem to learn by heart.

It might be easy to read and remember, but it is certainly not so easy to understand. Some of Blake's phrases are strange ('immortal hand'), some seem very old fashioned ('thine'), and others are used with different meanings from those we use today ('frame'). Added to this, Blake uses many vivid metaphors, which produce strong images of beauty and power ('...burning bright / In the forests of the night') but which are less obvious in their meaning.

The poem is also full of questions - twelve in all. Perhaps Blake intends the poem to be less than easy to understand because he, too, had lots of questions he couldn't answer. The first question hints that this poem is not really about nature despite its title,

'...What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?'
 

The 'immortal hand 'can only refer to God, and this gives the poem a religious theme that is continued through the remaining questions. Asking so many questions of God - especially the final question, which is a twist on the final line of stanza one, ('What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?') seems to suggest that Blake cannot understand how God could create an animal that is at one and the same time both beautiful and fearful, even evil.

At the end of stanza five, it is easy to imagine the tiger killing the Lamb, and, with the Lamb being given a capital 'L' it might refer to the 'Lamb of God' or Jesus Christ. Did Blake, who is known to have hated what he saw as God's 'natural religion' being misused by the leaders of mankind, mean not a tiger but a man? And that man has somehow destroyed Christ, or at least, what Christ was meant to stand for in the world? Is God crying at what he sees of how His creation ('watered heaven') has been ruined by mankind?

Certainly, Blake wrote this poem at a violent time in history, when England had attacked France soon after the French Revolution. This revolution began in the hope of freeing ordinary men from tyranny and the uncontrolled power of kings. It was meant to bring freedom and equality for ordinary people - something close to Blake's own heart. It does seem that there is irony, even sarcasm, in the two questions of stanza five: 'Did he smile his work to see? / Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 'Perhaps Blake meant 'Could he... 'when he wrote, 'Did he...'?

It is not easy to know what Blake really wanted for his readers in this strange and fascinating poem. But what cannot be doubted is power and beauty of the poem. Perhaps Blake just wanted his readers to feel this power and beauty and to ask themselves why our world should contain such opposites as goodness and evil, beauty and ugliness?

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