© 2019 Steve Campsall


a story
a poem
a play
a film
write a
write to
write to
write to
write to
write to
write to
write an
Full Contents - Home Page


poetry - william blake

This page contains:

A Brief Résumé of his Life

William Blake is referred to as many things, including poet, engraver, painter and mystic; but perhaps he is most famous for his poetry. He was born in London in 1757 and between the ages of 10 and 14, he attended a drawing school in the Strand; after this, he began a six year apprenticeship in the art of engraving. Between 1778 and 1789, Blake was a student at the Royal Academy School and began to make a living as an engraver.

He married Catherine Boucher in 1782; they had no children. In 1783 Blake's first poems, Poetical Sketches appeared. Blake began to make the acquaintance of several writers and artists including some political radicals such as Tom Paine and William Godwin inspired by the early democratic and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, he soon began to write profusely himself.

He produced an extraordinary series of long poems now called the 'Prophetic Books'; these were based on visions he claimed to have had. Later poems of a similar kind included Jerusalem in which Blake expressed a belief in salvation through love and forgiveness. Most of his literary works were produced by the laborious engraving process called 'illuminated writing', with its intricately beautiful decoration; to earn a living, he also illustrated the work of other writers.

By the time of his death in 1827, Blake had produced a large number of drawings, engravings, poems and articles in prose. Sadly, he receives more credit for his work today than he ever did during his lifetime when he was often looked upon as eccentric and even mad; he was certainly an individual - a highly talented one.

To find out more about Blake's life or to read his poetry and study his artwork see the list of links at the end of this page.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Blake began writing this collection of poems in about 1790 whilst living in Lambeth, London. These years were fertile years for Blake and relatively prosperous. The collection was first issued as one volume in 1794. The Songs are in the style of popular songs: hymns, ballads etc.

In Songs of Innocence the language is simple and repetitive; the lines are kept short and the rhymes are obvious. The rhythms vary, combining different kinds of metrical foot - iambs, trochees and anapaests.

A childlike vision is conveyed through Blake's clever use of speakers with their varying perspectives and questions. The poems reveal particular states of being and ways of seeing which the author is not saying are the whole truth. The poems have a joyful quality but they contain a subtle awareness of sorrow also.

Songs of Experience contrast strongly with the tenderness of the above. These poems show the inhumanity and cruelty under the surface of civilisation and the spirit and imagination of man struggling against the 'mind-forged manacles' of convention, 'reason' , and law.

The two sets of poems are designed to show what Blake referred to as the contrary states of the soul: contrary ways of seeing. They are Blake's way of representing the different ways in which people actually experience the world.

1. P H Butter's ed. William Blake Selected Poems, Everyman,1982
2. R P Hewett's ed. A Choice of Poets, Nelson,1987

The Tyger from Songs of Experience
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, 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 forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


This poem, from Songs of Experience, is best read alongside 'The Lamb' from Songs of Innocence as this was probably Blake's intention (see line 20).

This is a powerful and formidable poem. The tiger, itself, is dangerous but beautiful - 'burning bright' . The poem is full of questions, but the two main questions being asked are: (a) What is this God who could imagine such a terrifying beast? and (b) What is this God who dares to make such a terrifying beast? You can see how the first question leads subtly into the second question by looking at the slight alteration between the first and sixth stanza. (Could/Dare)

The poem draws our attention to the fact that the world contains conflicting elements: ferocity, strength gentleness, peace - these elements being jointly present in God and within human psychology also.

The poem maintains a rhythm of four beats to a line throughout and a consistent 'aabb...' rhyming pattern, as well as frequent examples of alliteration and assonance. This makes the poem accessible to children and adults alike.

There is a lot of repetition in the poem: the word 'Tyger' is repeated in the opening line, and the first stanza is repeated (with a slight alteration) at the end of the poem the words 'What?', 'dare' and 'dread' make several appearances. The repetition of these words and the questioning creates a sense of awe and wonder.

The imagery used in the poem creates a picture of God as blacksmith - 'seize the fire', 'twist the sinews', 'hammer', 'chain', 'furnace', 'anvil'. Remember that Blake himself, was an engraver - a maker of things.

Example Student Essays on Blake's 'The Tyger'

Click here to read a first class student's essay on this poem. Of course, you should not copy this for your own use, but rather use it to give you an idea of what a first class poetry essay could be like. Try to identify what is so good about it - you could take a quick look at our poetry essay page to help.

Return to Contents Page

Other sites you might find useful on this poet:

There are many sites claiming to help students on William Blake unfortunately, not many of them offer guidance on how to appreciate his poetry. We have tried to pick out the best ones to get you started. Good luck....