Featured Poem: The Tiger by William Blake

By now, New Year is becoming an increasingly fading memory (and so too, it’s likely, are the resolutions you vowed you really were going to stick to this year). But yesterday was the beginning of Chinese New Year; a time for renewed new beginnings, for forgetting past grudges and most importantly, for celebration. The Chinese New Year celebrations last for fifteen days, ending with the Lantern Festival. As a celebration, the whole of the Chinese New Year is full of fascinating traditions which owes much to the fact it is an ancient festival steeped in much prestige and importance.

Each year is represented by an animal, and is probably how those of us in the Western world recognise Chinese New Year, through it being ‘The Year of the…’. This year we usher in the year of the Tiger, and as a ‘Tiger’ myself I’m hoping that this Chinese New Year will be a significant one. Apparently, Tigers are gracious, brave, charismatic and born leaders, but on the slightly more negative side have a tendency to overpower, seek attention and get into trouble by living dangerously (hmm…that might just apply to a rather well known Tiger?).

It’s highly appropriate for the occasion to feature what might just be one of the most iconic poems by the literary ‘prophet’ that was William Blake. Indeed one companion to Blake’s work deems The Tiger “the most anthologized poem in English”, which is testament to its popularity and perhaps also to how its meaning has been agonised over, being bound up with issues of creation and God as a creator, evil and darkness and even with its references to hammers, furnaces and anvils, as representing the oncoming power of the industrial revolution. I see a closely observed portrait of a tortured kind of beauty, something strong and to be feared but also something unmistakably majestic and awe-inspiring. I hope you enjoy the poem, and whether Chinese New Year is part of your heritage or you’re just an observer, or regardless of being a Tiger or not, have a prosperous one.

The Tiger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forest 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?

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

William Blake (1757-1827)

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