William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” was published in his collection of poetry called “Songs of Experience” and serves as a counterpoint to his poem, “The Lamb.” The poem is a series of questions that ultimately asks whether the God who created the Lamb could also be the same creator of the Tyger. In other words, the poem addresses the idea that God created both good and evil, the gentleness of the Lamb and the violence of the Tyger. Blake is interested in exploring the two natures of good and evil in humanity. The Tyger, therefore, is a symbol for the devil or evil in the world.
The Tyger as a symbol for evil or the devil becomes clear when looking at the major theme of the poem, particularly when compared to the theme of goodness or Jesus in “The Lamb”. Indeed, Jesus is a universal symbol of goodness. He is often referred to as “the Lamb of God” or a sacrificial lamb (Bowker, 1997, p. 569). Likewise, Blake regards the creation of the Tyger as “fearful” and capable of “deadly terrors”. Blake presents the theme of evil as something that cannot be denied nor understood easily. Without evil, there is no good, and vice-versa. If the Lamb represents the theme of Jesus or goodness, then the opposite theme of the devil or evil can be attributed to the Tyger.
The title of the poem in itself supports the idea that “The Tyger” is a symbol for evil in the world. The Tyger is dangerous, foreign, and not easily understood as evident by Blake’s series of unanswered questions. Blake writes, “Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright” to instill a sense of magnificence to the creation. This is no mere mortal animal, but something terrible and awe-inspiring, created “when the stars threw down their spears, and watered heaven with their tears”.
Even the outdated spelling of utilizing a “y” instead of an “i” indicates that this creature is not an animal that commits evil, but something greater, an actual incarnation of evil.
The imagery Blake uses supports the idea that the Tyger of the poem is a symbol for evil or the devil. Indeed, the imagery evokes a sense of Hell itself by repeatedly using words like “burn” and “fire”. Also, the light imagery suggests an image of Lucifer, which is translated from the Latin as “light-bringer” (Bowker, 1997, p. 588). Isaiah 14.2 says, “How thou art fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning” (American Standard Version). Just as Lucifer fell from heaven in order to trick Adam and Eve into eating from the Tree of Knowledge, so did the Tyger come from the “deeps or skies” to entice humanity into asking life’s big questions. It was necessary for God to create both good and evil, or the Lamb and the Tyger, because, without them, humanity would not have free will.
Although the Tyger serves as a symbol for evil in the world, it is only one aspect of the poem. Indeed, scholars have written articles that have nothing to do with good or evil, instead focusing on the mythological elements or the symbol of the blacksmith as creator. There are so many ways in which to analyze this poem. Perhaps that is why it is one of the most famous poems in the English language. It not only incites the imagination of readers but it taps into a universal desire to ask the big questions about creation itself. Not only that, but the work of Blake has made its way into the modern world of literature and popular culture, particularly when it comes to explorations of evil characters. For example, in Thomas Harris’ (1981) crime fiction novel “Red Dragon”, the villain is obsessed with Blake’s painting of the same title. Indeed, Harris begins “Red Dragon” with a poem from Blake’s “Songs of Experience” collection. In last week’s episode of the television show “The Mentalist”, serial killer Red John uses phrases from “The Tyger” as a personal calling card. Even today, this poem still resonates with people when it comes to evil.
- Blake, W. (1794). British Library. Retrieved from
- Bowker, J. (1997). The Oxford dictionary of world religions. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Harris, T. (1981). Red Dragon. New York, NY: Berkeley Books.
- Heller, B. (Writer), & McNeill, R.D. (Director). (2013). Black-winged red bird [Television series
episode]. In B. Heller (Executive producer), The mentalist. Los Angeles, CA: Primrose Hill Productions.