Evil Tyger Max -#12

12813973_973669702686210_2245842652532621818_nIf you want to understand the Title you have to wait till the end.

This semester happens to be my last in grad school, and so I thought I would treat myself to only two classes; that way I would be able to spend more time writing.  My, what a foolish dream that was.  In my ignorance, or clueless bliss, I’m not sure which, I forgot that Graduate School, even if it’s just for a Master’s degree, is a Deathclaw from Fall Out 4: a monstrous soulless beast designed to rip, tear, bite, and devour the body before digesting the soul in its black pit of a stomach.  Despite that colorful description, I should note for the reader that I am actually enjoying school, despite the fact it’s slowly fallout4_deathclaw_3_by_jd1680a-d9guojlkilling me.

I’ve never studied Emily Dickinson before, which, given the fact I’m an Americanist, is something akin to admitting you’ve kissed your third cousin that one time at the family reunion though that may just be if you’re from the south like I am.  I signed up for a class dedicated only to her poetry and life with the professor who is considered the most strenuous instructor in our department.  It became clear right away that I had signed a deal with Mephistopheles as course load included: 127 poems a week, 2-4 chapters of a biography of Dickinson, 2-4 chapters from a book of criticism about her poetry, 6-7 Blackboard posts each at least 100-200 words, 4 essays due every other week, and finally a seminar research paper at the end and this is just for one class.

I would be lying if I said this was not exerting, but in my labors I stumbled across a poem with stunning imagery:

A Dying Tiger—moaned for Drink—
I hunted all the Sand—
I caught the Dripping of a Rock
And bore it in my Hand—creek-crossing-bengal-tiger

His Mighty Balls—in death were thick—
But searching—I could see
A Vision on the Retina
Of Water—and of me—

‘Twas not my blame—who sped too slow—
‘Twas not his blame—who died
While I was reaching him—
But ’twas—the fact that He was dead—  (Franklin ed. 529)

The reader may protest, wondering what Dickinson has to do with English Romanticism.  My answer to this interjection, apart from “be patient please,” is to reveal that it has nothing whatsoever to do with romantic poetry.  Dickinson served here merely as the inspiration to talk about William Blake.

The Tyger is a poem I’ve read numerous times, for school as well as for personal pleasure, and I imagine those of my fellow NASSR writers who live and breath romanticism might be sick of it by this point in their academic career.  The steady meter of the work allows for almost immediate memorization, and more people than even god can count have, at some point, used it in their artwork from Thomas Harris (Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs) to Paul Dini (Batman the Animated Series).  The reason for this may simply be because of the icon of the Tiger as an animal.

My Mother taught me to read by reading Something Under the Bed is Drooling, the second collection of Calvin and Hobbes, and from there C_and_H_im_home_4I devoured the series going so far as to dress up as Hobbes one year for Halloween.  Tigers became a passion that bordered on obsession, and given the amount of environmentalism dedicated to preserving their species it’s nice to know I wasn’t the only weird kid obsessed with Tigers.  Virtually every civilization has reacted to the cat in some form or fashion, whether it be the image of the Tiger in ancient Chinese art, to the worshipped domesticated cats in Egypt, to T.S. Eliot’s collection of cats that eventually became that insufferable calvin_tigermusical your girlfriend makes you watch when it’s her turn for movie night.  Tigers especially however summon emotions and feelings in the Western reader, and while it may simply be misguided Orientalism on my part, there has always been a fondness for them.  The animal is power, grace, and majesty wrapped up in orange fur.

Looking at the poem, this image holds true, if though, slightly altered:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry? tyger


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, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & 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 water’d heaven with their tears: 

Did he smile his work to see? The-Tiger-and-Drag_1752187i

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?

I was always taught this poem alongside one of Blake’s earlier poems, The Lamb.  The reason for this is because The Tyger is a direct reaction to that poem actually referencing it when the speaker asks that vital question, “Did he who make the lamb make thee?”  Divided by books, The Tyger was published in Blakes Songs of Expierience while The Lamb appears in Songs of Innocence, these two poems work to ask an important theological, and by extension philosophical question: what is the origin of evil and can it be traced back to god?images

Speaking as an atheist this question assumes a troubling matter because it feels presumptuous to express the paradigms and attitudes of Christians who honestly struggle with this issue, not that atheists don’t however the implications come from different origins.  I did grow up in the Episcopal Church and in East Texas so I can offer some interpretation from a Christian perspective.

The Tyger presented in this poem is not so much the benevolent Hobbes pouncing on Calvin as he comes home from school, but neither is it a malevolent monster.  The Tyger certainly is created with some kind of ill intent for words like “anvil,” “hammer,” “furnace,” and “terror” all begin to summon a cold, industrial, and almost hellish environment in which the creature is formed rather than born.  Blake describes the Tyger almost as a kind of machine designed to 10255660124_a0d3744cd4_brip and kill, speaking of Deathclaws, and unlike the lamb that is a benevolent creature created by a loving god, the Tyger inspires terror and fear in the speaker.

Blake summons the images of how “stars threw down their spears/And water’d heaven with their tears” and thus the theological implications are made.  The problem with the Tyger is the problem of a purely benevolent god.  It would be a mistake to call Blake an atheist, for if the reader is at all familiar with the man’s extended work they will understand that Blake lived in a spiritual reality akin only to Alan Moore, though Blake probably bathed more than Moore…huh I just got that.  Blake’s poetry is littered with references to spirits, angels, demons, and the man often received pseudo-religious visions that provided inspiration for much of his poetry.  Blake’s philosophical world view can be broken down into three types: Innocence, Experience, and Second-Innocence.  As my professor explained it out to me Innocence is a 129330-004-B7EF5D6Astate in which the individual has not yet recognized the evils of the world and so it is a state of vulnerability and imagination where trust in god and humanity is pure and unbiased.  Experience, which is the state in which the Tyger lives, is a more seasoned world view defined often by cynicism and distrust of others.  Finally however, the human being attains a kind of Second-Innocence where the fascination of life is resumed, with the added benefit of understanding how to protect the self against the perils of existence.  God exists within this structure and so the speaker’s concern that god is the maker of both the lamb as well as the Tyger can be understood as the psychological development of Experience.

We have all suffered through this cycle at this point in our lives, and while Blake describes observing a Tyger, the means to discovering Experience can be manifold whether it be recognizing your parents are flawed, having your heart broken, being the victim of bullying, losing a loved one to a vehicular accident, realizing that we lost Alan Rickman and David Bowie in less than a year (I know it’s still too soon but we need to talk about it) and the list can go on.  Experience is simply recognizing that life isn’t fair, and while this may contest the idea that god, the creator of existence and reality as we know it, is also the creator of evil may lead to some disillusion but this realization is in fact only the first step to recognizing the complicated matter of faith.

This interpretation of the Tyger however has often been lost, Harris, Thomasbecause the sexier interpretation is that the cat is an evil being and thus Thomas Harris enters the plot.

Red Dragon is a novel some fans of the Hannibal Lecter series may not immediately warm up to because for the most part the cartoon character cannibal does not play much of a role.  The main focus remains on Francis Dolarhyde, a.k.a. The Tooth Fairy, a.k.a. the Red Dragon.  Dolarhyde is a serial killer obsessed with the work of William Blake, specifically his painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, so much so that he has the dragon tattooed across his back.  Without going into too much detail his crimes involve slaughtering suburban families and sexually assaulting the mother.  Here’s a photo of my cute puppy Huckleberry to get that image out of your head.

20150510_152834Dolarhyde in the novel is described as physically fit, he’s a power builder along with a film developer, and in the past has been physically, psychologically, and sexually abused by his grandmother, so much so that his devotion to Blake is in some way an effort to overcome the abuse he felt as a child.  There have been at least two versions of the film done and my favorite remains the most recent starring Ralph Fiennes as Dolarhyde, it’s the Harry Potter fan in me I reddragon-fiennes1guess.

The reader may wonder what relevance this has to Blake, well again, please be patient I’m getting to it.  Within the novel he falls in love with a blind woman Rebecca McClane who works at the same film processing firm as him and he begins to fall in love with her to the point that he makes a romantic gesture.

She gripped the edge of the table and reached out tentatively until her fingers touched tips of fur, warm from the lights, a cooler layer and then a deep steady warmth from below.  She flattened her hand on the thick coat and moved in gently, feeling the fur slide across her palm, with and against the lay, felt the hide slide over the wide ribs as they rose and fell.

She gripped the pelt and fur sprang between her fingers.  In the very presence of the tiger her face grew pink and she lapsed into blindisms, inappropriate facial movements she had schooled herself against.  (252).

The Tiger belongs to a local zoo and is inoculated with heavy drugs, but even in sleep the great cat inspires physical reactions that border on sexual terror.  The Tiger is a beast and being able to touch tiger2its powerful body without fear is an exhilarating experience.  Harris uses Blake throughout the novel, even supplying epigrams from The Divine Image from both Songs of Innocence as well as Experience.  The allusion to The Tyger is implied and mirrors Dolarhyde, and like the man who tries to form a relationship with this woman, he is ultimately stunted by his nature.

The idea of the creature’s “nature” however brings me back to the poem because I like many people cannot read this poem without noting the change Blake includes in the final stanza.  In the beginning the Tyger is described:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

But in the final stanza the speaker shifts their tone:manhunter-vs-red-dragon-francis-dolarhyde-1024x427

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

I’ve underlined these two words to emphasize the difference.  The reader may question whether this really constitutes a difference, but let me remind them that “Truth-or-Could” is not as frequently played by middle schoolers at parties.  “Could” as a word indicates some level of disgust or shock.  “How could you” is the response your parents accuse you of when you get caught sneaking out, however “How Dare you” is the response your republican brother-in-law asks you when you say you think President Obama is an okay guy.  The shift from “Could” to “Dare” is a shift in experience, for the speaker at first cannot possibly conceive of a creature or deity that would allow an animal like the tyger to exist.  However by the end of this by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807brief work the speaker is no longer repulsed or curious, instead there is horror and fear.  This shift is made because of the experience of the Tyger.  What kind of being would “Dare” create such a beast comes across as a value judgement on the speaker’s part and then a larger question for the reader.

In human existence there are animals and people that will shock us to our core because they exemplify a manner of behavior that we recognize as anti-social or even evil.  I won’t give names, each reader can immediately summon their own nightmares and boogeymen.  These people inspire in us a similar feeling of immediately horror, but then as is so often the case, a morbid curiosity.  We can’t imagine performing such nightmares upon our fellow human beings, however there is still a fascination with death and pain that compels us to look, to observe the evil behavior tyger!tyger!because on some level there may be an identification.  While we may not consider ourselves a “Tyger” hunting in the jungle, that may only be because of the advantages and privileges we have had, and had our lives been altered differently, we might ourselves have “Dare[d]” to frame such fearful symmetry.

The Tyger is an animal defined by its cruelty, which is a shame because the tiger as an animal is a creature who made me want to read growing up, not to mention make me hesitant to open doors when I came home from school.


*Writer’s Note*

Allright here it is, the answer to the title:



**Writer’s Second Note**

If you skipped the whole essay just to get to the answer I believe the link expressed the correct amount of shame you should feel for not reading my essay.  The real explanation is far simpler.  I simply wrote what first popped into my head and when I google searched it out of curiosity I found that the first link that came up was actually an explanation of The Tyger by William Blake.  For some reason I cannot replicate these results, but serendipity can only strike the same spot once or twice.  Please enjoy.



***Writer’s Third Note***

The passages from the novel Red Dragon come from the Putnam first printing.  Passages from Emily Dickinson come from The Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by R.W. Franklin, and finally The Tyger is supplied here courtesy of poetryfoundation.org, I’ve provided the link below: