William Blake’s Tyger – 4

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s “The Tyger” continues from –  here 

Student:  What is the connection with the Lamb?  Is that….

AG:  Well, it’s sort of a rhetorical question.  Of course “he who made the Lamb made thee” because both tiger and lamb are products of the poetic imagination.  Or, let us say, tiger, wrath, lamb, mercy, pity, (or vulnerability) are products (or) projections of our own minds or creations of our own imagination and emotions and impulses and all that.  It’s sort of like we create our own emotional universe to a great (extent).  Yeah, we do, in the long run, create our own (universe).  Conditioned.  We are conditioned, but, nonetheless, with prior conditioning, we wind up creating our own emotional universe – wrath or pity.  So, did the conscious brain of you smile when you saw that you had created everything around you, including the horrific wrath of the tiger and the mildness of the lamb?  And so “Did he smile..?” –   It’s actually us (or) you.  Did you smile when you saw your work?

Peter Orlovsky:  The tiger’s not smiling…
AG:  What’s the tiger got there?
Peter Orlovsky: The tiger looks kind of sad and….
[tape ends here and resumes on the next side]

AG:  …Blake is saying it’s all made up by the imagination.

Peter Orlovsky:  Where’s that line in there?

AG:  It’s “What the hammer?, what the chain/In what furnace was thy brain?.”  Because “hammer”, “chain”, “furnace”, and “anvil” are all the symbols of Los – the figure Los – or Urthona, the imagination, symbolically.  If you look in the dictionary [S.Foster Damon’s A Blake Dictionary].  In the dictionary. there’s an interesting page which maybe you haven’t seen because we haven’t had it around, but, here [Allen points it out], this little scheme which gives the Four Zoas [Urthona,Urizen, Luvah and Tharmas] and all of their appurtenances and their symbols. And under Urthona, Urthona’s calling or vocation is blacksmith, his meaning, imagination, his art is poetry, his metal is iron, his emanation is spiritual beauty or Enitharmon.  Let’s see.  Humanity, head, ears…

Now let’s see what we have about stars.  Stars relate to Urizen, the plowman, architecture.  So, ”When the stars threw down their spears’, when the imagination conquered the materialistic rational universe, and “the stars threw down their spears/ And water’d heaven with their tears”, when the imagination went beyond the boundaries of the rational mind, and all the cold warriors threw down their (weapons), realizing it was all their own making, threw down their arms, so to speak, “Did he smile his work to see?”

There’s also “The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”  I remember that.  So the tiger there, that particular “tyger of wrath”, would be an emotional breakthrough, imagination and emotion together making some kind of breakthrough that surpassed the slow, plodding, domesticated “horses of instruction”.  So, when he says, “When the stars threw down their spears/And water’d heaven with their tears”, (he means) when imagination, or dream, or poetry, or spiritedness, broke through the rational order of the universe and the limitations and boundaries of the universe as seen by materialistic philosophers, like (Sir Isaac) Newton, who measured the stars, when imagination went beyond the physical universe, or the bounds of the physical universe, did the imaginer, finally realizing that he had broken through free from the prison of his own mind, “smile his work to see”?  And looking backward, by hindsight, realize he made both the prison, the starry prison, the starry floor, and the watery shore, and he had also created the tiger, which broke it up, the wrath or the revolution which broke that up and the mental revolution that broke that up, and also created the lamb figure, abiding all along  – the sensitivity and vulnerability.  But finally it’s just the awe of the fact that the tiger, burning in the forest of the night –  “What immortal hand or eye,/ Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” – Who could dare to imagine such a thing?  Or could you imagine anybody (who) would make up the entire universe, tiger and lamb and all?  – And not only make it up but also go beyond it.

to be continued


  1. What year and date did Allen Ginsberg have this conversation and where did you find this source? I would like to use it in my paper.

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