This month’s Animal poem: William Blake’s “The Tyger”
The first four lines of Blake’s “The Tyger,” or at least the first two, are so firmly rooted in the canon they’ve nudged its way into the common lexicon. “Tyger tyger burning bright / In the forests of the night.” But how quickly after 10th grade English (unless you’re teaching same) do we forget the rest. Or I did at least. But after looking at it awhile again I find “The Tyger” feels very fresh to me, a couple hundred years of being a classic poem notwithstanding. The wondering tone of the questions, the awe, and most especially, that at the end of stanza after stanza of questions, the speaker is still stuck on the first question asked — who could have made something like a tiger? (with one small but important change).
A teacher told me once that part of the exquisite energy of those first lines is that the last syllable is missing — it should be “brightly.” Instead we bite off the end of “burning bright” and there’s a thudding pause before the next line, that’s matched by “of the night” — we hear the same missing syllable after “night” even though you would never say “of the nightly.” But that missing rhyme holds such force in the ear. “Tyger tyger burning bright, [thud] / In the forests of the night [thud].” Continue reading