William Blake’s Tyger – 3

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s “Tyger” continued from here 

AG: Let’s see what we’ve got here.  What tiger does he (have) here?  Yeah, this one is kind of funny.  If you notice that it’s a very mild, cartoon tiger.  Not very scary at all.

Student:  No.

AG:  I was always baffled by this.  What did he mean by tiger, anyway?  What is the meaning of this famous tiger?  Because Bertrand Russell, when he was a child, heard somebody recite this and fainted on his stairway in his house.  It was so powerful – the image of the tiger, the wrath of the tiger – and it’s struck everybody.  This poem being maybe the acme poem in the English language, the one that almost all children learn or know of., the archetypal great poem. But nobody knows quite what it means, on account it might be God?  – or, is the tiger Death?, or is the tiger Pain?, or is the tiger Fear?, or Experience?, or Wrath?Anyway..

But where did the tiger come from?  Was it there at the beginning of the universe, or not? Well, it’s  “…burning bright,/In the forests of the night;/What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” – (“(T)he forests of the night” would seem to be Ignorance, in some ways, as much as anything else.  It could be Ignorance – Nonetheless, it’s an “immortal hand or eye” that made it.)

“What the hand, dare sieze the fire?/ And what shoulder, & what art,/Could twist the sinews of thy heart?/ What the hammer? what the chain,/ In what furnace was thy brain?/What the anvil? what dread grasp,/Dare its deadly terrors clasp?..” – (Does anybody recollect “hammer”, “chain”, “furnace” and “anvil”, what that stands for in Blake?  Does anybody associate it to.. figured that one out yet?)

Student:  Industry.

AG:  Well, industry.  There’s a certain element of (the) Urizenic, but beyond that, does anybody remember the divisions of the Four Zoas?  Have you got that scheme (or) schemata?  Find an anvil, furnace, chain and hammer.  Who has got the anvil, furnace, chain and hammer?  Who is the blacksmith?  Who is the blacksmith?

Student:  Urthona.

AG:  Urthona.  And what does Urthona symbolize?

Student:  Creation?

AG:  Yes.  So the tiger is a creation of the human imagination, actually.  When he’s saying, “What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” he’s talking about us, or talking about our own human imagination.  The tiger is not built into the bottom of the universe but is a projection of our own poetic imagination, just as the lamb is – “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” –  So it isn’t as if the tiger is a fixed eternal in the universe, outside of us, that’s going to eat us up and scare us, it’s we ourselves who have created the tiger (and in modern terms I always thought the exact equivalent (for) the poetic production of the human mind was plutonium, or the atom bomb, or hydrogen bomb.  It’s a production of our imagination – Einsteinian and other imagination.  So it’s we (who) created that, it didn’t create itself.  So it’s a poem or a by-product of our own imagination)

Peter Orlovsky:  So instead of saying “Tyger Tyger” you’d say “Plutonium Plutonium”?

AG:  You could say,  “Plutonium Plutonium, burning bright/In the forests of the night;/What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame they fearful symmetry?” – It makes complete sense – “What the hand, dare sieze the fire?/And what shoulder, & what art,/Could twist the sinews of thy heart?/What the hammer? what the chain,/In what furnace was thy brain?/What the anvil? what dread grasp,/Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”

So, “When the stars threw down their spears/And water’d heaven with their tears.”  This is a very strange line.  It refers to something in the Bible – The morning stars dance together in joy, or something..what is that in the Bible?  In the Book of Job  somewhere? – or Genesis?But stars are also symbolic of Urizen – starry intellect, Newtonian limited universe measured with stars, at least stars like thought forms.  On and off, he’s used that starry (imagery).  I think we’ve referred to it before.  Do you remember?  Starry as being intellect and (a) Urizenic quality. [Editorial note – the line echoes elsewhere in Blake, from the lament of Urizen which closes Night the Fifth of The Four Zoas – ‘I call’d the stars around my feet in the night of councils dark;/ The stars threw down their spears & fled naked away?/We fell.”]

So, when the stars threw down their aggressive weapons, when the stars gave up, when the stars surrendered, when reason surrendered and watered heaven with their tears, did Urizen then, or did Los, or, let’s see, did the imagination, working, say, under the guidance of reason, create the secret police wrath tiger.  It’s sort of a complicated thing that could be meant there.  The stars are throwing down their spears, in this case.

Peter Orlovsky:  Spears is what?

AG:  Well, the war of sighs and spears:  aggressive thoughts.  By throwing down meaning they’re not going to use them any more. They’re giving up arms.  They’re giving up their arms.  They’re giving up their aggression.

Peter Orlovsky:  Who is?
AG:  The stars.
Peter Orlovsky:  The stars.  And the stars are what?
AG:  The rational mind.

Peter Orlovsky:  The rational mind.

AG:  When the rational mind gave up and threw down its aggressive weapons “And water’d heaven with their tears:/Did he smile his work to see?/Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

to be continued

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *