Yr 8 Poetry Study: The Tiger by William Blake

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The Tiger by William Blake

Tiger! Tiger! 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 watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Writing Task

Paraphrase the poem into prose. You do not have to do the last stanza, as this verse repeats itself. Do your best to carry Blake’s meaning across in everyday language.


  1. Briefly describe the problem that Blake comes up against in this poem.
  2. Explain why “fire”might be an effective image to compare with the tiger’s eyes.
  3. When God is making the tiger, Blake uses words like “shoulder”, “twist” and “sinews”. What do these words add to our understanding of the nature of the tiger and why do you believe this?
  4. There is significant change in rhythm toward the end of the third stanza. Explain how the last line changes the rhythm and then explain why it is important that the rhythm does change.
  5. Blake describes the stars shining and the rain. Explain what images he uses to do this.
  6. There are two primary questions in the fifth stanza, and one follows directly on from the other. Explain to what these questions pertain. What are they asking?
  7. There is a direct biblical allusion in the fifth stanza when Blake asks the question “did he smile his work to see?” What verse do you think it alludes to? (hint: it’s in the creation story”)

Further Study: what is a paradox?

–noun 1. a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

A paradox is a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition. (Wikipedia)

A paradox in literature refers to the use of concepts/ ideas that are contradictory to one another, yet, when placed together they hold significant value on several levels. The uniqueness of paradoxes lies in the fact that a deeper level of meaning and significance is not revealed at first glace, but when it does crystallize, it provides astonishing insight.

Paradox is where two things are true at the same time. Moreover, these two things depend on one another to be true. “The Tiger” by William Blake is a good example of a paradox. When presented with a paradox, is tempted to “resolve” it by choosing one truth over the other. However, with a paradox, this is impossible since one cannot exist without the other. Blake saw this when he wrote “The Tiger” since it explores the paradox of the tiger – that it is a glorious vision of life and yet it is a killer.


  1. Explain what Blake meant by the statement “Without contraries there is no progression”.
  2. Explain how paradox is explored in “The Tiger”.
  3. Create a visual representation of life and death.

Examples of paradoxes:

  • I can resist anything except temptation – Oscar Wiilde
  • though this be madness, yet there is method in’t – Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • I must be cruel to be kind –  Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally/ And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. – Donne

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