Analysis: The Fifth Stanza of William Blake's "The Tiger"

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

The lines quoted above are the fifth stanza of William Blake’s poem, The Tiger in the Songs of Experience (1794). The Tiger is the most famous and impressive of Blake’s short poem that is the most frequently and elaborately interpreted. The poem is the product of much thoughtful revision, and is a triumph of conscious artistry. William Blake is a poet who gives spirit and motivation to human life in order to make human life better. Blake, in The Tiger, talks about human beings and the spirit that they have. The Tiger may be regarded as the pure poetry of Blake’s trust in cosmic forces. The tiger is Blake’s symbol for the fierce forces in the soul, which are needed to break the bonds of experience. God has created human beings possessing two powers. One is to act in good manner and another one is to act in evil manner. That is why human beings must be able to stabilize or to control his life. In this poem, Blake asks a series of questions. He himself could have supplied one answer to the questions if he had quoted his own words from his poem, America, A Prophecy (1794): “Everything that lives is holy”—everything including the tiger.

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears;
(The Tiger, lines 17-18)

The two lines quoted above constitute the crux of the poem. “The stars” can be taken as the rebel angels. Therefore lines 17-18 above can be interpreted when the rebel angels in Heaven surrendered to the power of God, which is represented by the tiger in this poem, and when they wept with humiliation (and when God proceeded to create the earth and its inhabitants—among them the tiger). The reference in lines 17-18 is, therefore, to the defeat of the rebel angels led by Lucifer (Satan), after which came the Creation. It is thought that the lines quoted above refer to the fall of the angels as described by John Milton in Paradise Lost:

They, astonished, all resistance lost,
All courage, down their weapons dropt.

In Blake conception, when the fallen angels were driven into hell, they “watered heaven with their tears” leaving them behind as stars. All of this has obvious relationship with the fall of man, and the introduction into the world of death, and such terrors as the tigers. The angels and man have fallen into Experience.

Another interpretation of the lines 17-18 above is the rebel angels are so amazed to see this new creation of God, the tiger, that they threw down their spears and wept because the tiger, which is merciless, strong as well as ferocious, has been created by God.

Did he smile his work to see?
(The Tiger, line 19)

Did the creator, God, smile with satisfaction to see the tiger which had been created? Did his handiwork please the Creator? God was happy because the tiger has made the rebel angels surrender.

Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?
(The Tiger, line 20)

Line 20 of the poem is the climax of the poem. The line is not an exclamation of wonder, but a very real question, whose answer Blake himself was not sure of. It is amazing that the same creator should have created both the lamb and the tiger. The lamb is innocent and mild while the tiger is ferocious and merciless. However the same God has created both of them. The line 20 quoted above links the poem with The Lamb in the Songs of Innocence (1789):

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
He is called by thy name
For He call Himself a Lamb.
(The Lamb, lines 9-14)

God has created the lamb and the tiger, ignorance and awareness, so the evil and good always exist in this world. It is on us whether to follow evil or goodness. In other words it is up to man to give shape to the vast potentialities (powers) with which God has endowed man.


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