Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

“Tyger! Tyger! 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?

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



—William Blake, “The Tyger”

Kull qitt namir: ‘Every cat is a tiger’

When I was perhaps ten, my mother’s mother sent homemade plaques to me and my sister by way of a Christmas gift, each with a beautifully drawn animal and some verse to correspond to it. My sister got an owl and a bit of Shakespeare: “Tu whit! Tu whoo! A merry note!” And, as you’ve doubtless inferred by now, I got a tiger.

Every cat is a tiger

This is no ordinary cat; it is the quintessence of Cat. And yet, it is also every cat that ever stalked the night in quest of prey.
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Even today, this poem and much else of Blake’s verse sends shivers up many a spine. But how many people remember that Blake was also a religious revolutionary? His works comprehend, after all, such syntheses as “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” and in them he is the truest advocate Satan ever had.

Never think, though, that Blake’s devil represented evil; to him there was only energy unrestrained. Blake envisioned a finely wrought balance between Reason and Energy, and thought widely and deeply of its consequences: It was he, let’s recall, who bade us “cleanse the doors of perception” — a phrase that inspired musician-poet Jim Morrison when he named his band, The Doors.

Blake’s unorthodox theology contained not a hint of corruption. In him we find a poetic soul “recover[ing] radical innocence”: Here was a writer who could so exercise empathic imagination as to see from its own eyes the most despised of creatures: “...For am not I/A fly like thee?/Or art not thou/A man like me?” Here also was a Christian in whom Mahatma Gandhi would find no fault; for to resemble as closely as he might the founder of his faith was Blake’s supreme concern.

And if Blake could write so well of sorrows as to make his readers’ eyes sting with unexpected tears, this was because he was a true prophet: He beheld with unclouded vision the tragedy of his country, his time and his species; containing multitudes, he experienced as he wrote of them the miseries of the oppressed, and he never dreaded the outraged hubris of the powerful.

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