William Blake ‘s Tyger – 1

Allen Ginsberg continues from here with his poem-by-poem examination of William Blake’s
Songs of Innocence and Experience

AG:  Then we have “Tyger..” – we’ve done that.  We might sing it, though.  Have we got much to do?  Much to go through?  We have quite a bit to go in this.  We’ll go on until three, I think. Another fifteen minutes and continue next class.

“Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,/In the forests of the night;/What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?/. In what distant deeps of 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?/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?”

A couple things are now available for this.  First of all, metrically, dig, that if you pronounce it “fearful symmetry” then rhythmically it does take on a symmetrical heartbeat.  The heartbeat provides a symmetry in the empty space between “symmetry” and the next stanza –  “In what distant deeps of skies.”  Because you get “could frame thy fearful symmetry.” Bom-bom /In what.”  So the empty space  there is symmetrical. Otherwise you’re stuck with “What immortal hand or eye,/Dare frame thy fearful symme-try?”, which isn’t the way you would talk.  So almost every time there’s a metrical problem with Blake, if you reduce it back to spoken language and try and find the rhythm as it would be spoken if it were to make sense, it’ll fall into place, and (be) really interesting.

Then, in this case, the punctuation is really important as a song, because with this punctuation you know where to breathe. So the first line is –  “Tyger Tyger” – then you can breath again – “burning bright.”  Otherwise you’re stuck with “Tyger Tyger burning bright” which is too much for a single powerful breath, actually.  You need, “Tyger Tyger … burning bright” – you can really get a good trochaic hammer-blow in the voice if you stop (and take) the caesura there for the breath.

Then, at the end, the last stanza begins (with) a comma after the first “Tyger” – and I found, in singing, it really fits to go along, because then you can go, see, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” as a long breath.  So if you then go, “Tyger…Tyger…burning bright,” you’ve really got enough spiritual strength or breath-strength, spirit-strength, to actually get that “..Tyger burning bright.”

So in this case the punctuation is really great and if you follow it all the way through you’ll see that there are some amazing things that happen.  Like, (in) the first stanza, the first line is cut in half with a caesura, the second line is (a) complete breath, the third line is (a) complete breath, the fourth line is (a) complete breath.  The fifth and sixth lines, (in) the second stanza, (are) one single breath – “In what distant deeps of skies/Burnt the fire of thine eyes!” –  there’s no comma, unless you want to make it just because it’s the end of a line.  Then, “On what wings dare he aspire?” – you’d have to take a breath there, after that line.  And then, “What the hand”,  and you really need, at that point with all that breath going in and out, a pause, and it’s really helpful.  Every time I sing it I’m absolutely grateful that it’s “What the hand … dare seize the fire?” because then you can actually get the hammer-blows of it, because you’ve got enough breath, and he’s made it that way by breaking that line in half.

So, one thing you might notice is that there’s a symmetry between, in these two stanzas, “Tyger Tyger, burning bright,” (and) “What the hand, dare seize the fire.”  And in between the other lines are single breaths, more or less.  So the first line and the eighth line break in the middle for a breath.

And then the next line, “And what shoulder, & what art,”….

Peter Orlovsky:  Why did he put a….

AG:  “And what shoulder…& what art”, so you can really do it. (You can really get a complete power into both halves of the line, and if you had to do “And what shoulder & what art”, it wouldn’t be quite as powerful) – “Could twist the sinews of thy heart?/And when thy heart began to beat”.. (which is great, because that gives away the rhythm of the poem and also some of the meaning –  that it’s actually about the human heart, it’s about the human frame, the actual physical frame, and the trochaic meter – dum-dum dum-dum  is also equivalent to the lub-dub lub-dub lub-dub lub-dub heartbeat measure).

But, “What dread hand? & what dread feet?” –  (so you’ve got another caesura, so you’ve got room for a breath there).  And that continues – “What the hammer? what the chain,” (so it’s a series – three in a row, or two in row there) – “What dread hand? & what dread feet?/What the hammer? what the chain.”  “In what furnace was thy brain?”, you can get in one breath, but by that time you really need, if you’re singing, “What the anvil?…what dread grasp”.  And it isn’t “what dread grasp” there, it’s “what dread grasp..,/Dare….”  So he gives you room there.  And remember these are all copied from the original manuscripts, this punctuation, as distinct from the punctuation in any other book (like) in the (Geoffrey) Keynes‘ (edition of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” published by) Oxford (University Press).  Peter has that?  Keynes.  The Oxford Keynes.

Student:  Yeah.

AG:  Totally different punctuation.  A terrible mistake for that.

Peter Orlovsky:  Why did he do it?

AG:  Well, they thought they were making it easier to read, and so they were making it (more traditional).  They really thought they were being helpful.

to be continued

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