Imagery and Symbolism in The Tyger by William Blake
Blake’s poetry has several connections to Greek and Roman mythology. Myths are more than just stories; they were told to propose truths about human nature and experiences, or to explain how the world came to be the way it is. They are relevant in presenting The Tyger since the poem deals with ideas concerning how we perceive life. Blake, like many Christian writers, blends classical and biblical symbols, images, and stories.
The imagery of fire invokes the tiger’s ferocity and potential danger, which depicts what is wicked or feared. Blake begins, “Tyger Tyger, burning bright / In the forests of the night,” conjuring the image of a tiger’s eyes burning in the darkness. “In what distant deeps or skies. / Burnt the fire of thine eyes” he adds, before questioning, “What the hand, dare seize the fire?” … “In what furnace was thy brain?” Here, the image of a hand leads to the imagery of a creator. Someone or something is creating the tiger.
Here are a few more images:
“On what wings dare he aspire” – This appears to be a reference to angels, specifically fallen angels who aspired to overthrow God and were sent down into Hell. This would imply that the speaker believes that the energy that created the tiger is not God but a demonic power working in opposition to God.
It is also frequently seen as a possible connection to the classical storey of Icarus. Icarus wished to fly, so his father built him wax wings. When he flew too close to the sun, his wings melted. As a sign of humanity reaching beyond its limitations, it implies that this creator is being incredibly brazen in creating this beast, almost exceeding his own limits.
“What the hand dare seize the fire” – Many analysts interpret this as an allusion to Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods in order to save humanity. This would make it yet another icon of audacious ambition. Prometheus’ action was beneficent, yet the setting suggests something sinister about the hand snatching the fire. It seems as if the speaker is seized by the tiger’s ferocity and might, and he is blind to the possibilities of something beneficial lurking within it.
“Hammer .. furnace .. anvil“ – This is a reference to Hephaestus, the Greek fire blacksmith deity. A hammer and anvil are his symbols. According to tradition, Prometheus stole fire from Hephaestus’ forge and was punished by him. It would imply that this creator is regarded as evil rather than beneficent.
Milton, an influence on Blake, linked this account of Hephaestus with the fall of the angels following their revolt against God in his poem Paradise Lost. Milton portrayed Hephaestus as the creator of Pandemonium, the home of all demons. This would connect this image to the ones of wings and the furnace.
Another reference to the fall of the angels is “When the stars threw down their spears” It implies that Blake’s principal thought is to connect the images of wings, grasping fire, and casting down spears with Milton’s description of the fall of the angels and the character of Hephaestus as a demonic figure rather than a beneficent god.
The utilisation of this complex of images alludes to the speaker’s mind. He sees furious strength, courage, and energy at the centre of creation, and his language reflects his obsession with this vision. Blake may possibly be referring to the revolutionary spirit of the time, when the “Terror” was unleashed by brazen French Revolutionaries capturing power.