“The Tiger” by William Blake: An Analysis

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When learning about poetry, students are taught that in order for a piece of writing to be called poetry or a poem, it has to have certain elements. Over the years, many of these elements have become less important to the defining of a piece of work as a poem (e.e. cummings alone bends most, if not all, of the rules). However, there are still many poems which remain that clearly demonstrate elements that characterize traditional notions of poetry. These poems likewise demonstrate other elements of literary writing which underscores the fact that poetry is a form of literature. “The Tiger” by William Blake offers examples of structural elements that support traditional ideas of poetry – namely, stanzas and quatrains – as well as other literary elements – namely alliteration, hyperbole, and metaphor – which endorse the poem’s designation as literature.

The poem’s structure – its visual presentation – is most obvious, so therefore it will be discussed first. Upon seeing the poem on the page, it is clear that it clear that it uses stanzas, which are simply groups of lines within a poem. “The Tiger” has six stanzas, each of which has four lines. The fact that the stanzas have four lines makes these groupings a particular kind of stanza: a quatrain. A quatrain is a type of stanza made up of four lines, which all of the stanzas in “The Tiger” have. Quatrains contain rhyming elements – that is, the lines rhyme in some fashion. This means that the 4-line stanzas of “The Tiger” are definitely quatrains. The rhyming scheme is AABB. The rhyme is not always perfect. For example, while the first two lines of the poem end in –ight words (bright and night) and are a perfect rhyme, the next two lines are imperfect. Blake “rhymes” the words eye and symmetry. Spoken aloud, they don’t rhyme. But visually they work.

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The poem also contains literary elements, namely alliteration, hyperbole, and metaphor. Alliteration is when two words are side-by-side, or at least very close together, and have the same first sound. Several times in the poem Blake uses alliteration. Alliteration occurs in the first line of the poem with the words “burning bright.” The last line of the first stanza contains “frame thy fearful” which is not a perfect alliteration, but frame and fearful are close enough that it works. Other examples include “distant deeps,” “what wings,” “began to beat,” and “dare its deadly.”

Hyperbole is a form of exaggeration in which the content is not meant to be taken literally. This appears several times in the poem, beginning with the idea of the tiger “burning bright.” Blake is really referring to the bright orange and white coloring of the tiger, not an actual tiger on fire. Fire is also used for hyperbole throughout the poem with regard to the tiger, such as the “fire of thine eyes” and “in what furnace was thy brain?” All of these exaggerations are intended to highlight the power and ferocity of the tiger.

A few of the examples of hyperbole also double as metaphors. “The fire of thine eyes” refers simply to the light of the tiger’s eyes in the dark. “The fire of thine eyes” sounds much more poetic than “the reflectiveness of your eyeballs so you can see better.” But also: “when the stars threw down their spears” is an unusual way of describing starlight, as well as the fact that the stars “water’d heaven with their tears” – another way of describing the phenomenon of starlight in a metaphorical way.

Blake’s use of stanzas and rhyming quatrains reflect traditional notions of poetic structure. The poem also contains elements associated with literary writing, underlining this poem’s status as a work of literature. In short, “The Tiger” is a literary poem, reflecting poetic structures and literary mechanisms of writing.

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