Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
- These first lines set up to whom the poem is addressed: the "Tyger."
- It begins with the repetition of the name ("Tyger, tyger"). The repetition creates a chant-like mood to the whole poem, which contributes to the mysteriousness. Reading it, you can’t help but get the feeling this poem is about way more than the biggest cat in the world.
- What is this about "burning bright, / In the forests of the night"? Tigers don’t burn. When you see crazy or unexpected metaphors like this – which always happens with Blake – slow down and chew on them for a minute.
- "Burning bright" may describe the appearance of the Tyger (tigers have fiery orange fur), or it may on a deeper level describe a kind of energy or power that this Tyger has.
- The Tyger's presence in "the forests of the night" further increases the mystery and power of the creature – it’s elusive, while at the same time burning with some sort of inner force.
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
- These lines introduce the central question of the poem: what "immortal" being or force is able to contain or produce the Tyger’s sublime form? Big stuff, we know.
- The "immortal hand or eye," symbols of sight and creation, immediately conjure references to a creative God (in pretty much all cases with Blake, "God" refers to the Christian God). If this is so, then questioning whether God could do anything is a direct attack on the omnipotence of such a God.
- To "frame," here, is probably to contain, kind of like putting a picture in a frame. When you frame something, the boundaries are clear, the object isn’t going anywhere.
- "Fearful symmetry," is a very nuanced quality to have. "Fearful" references the scariness of a tiger, but also alludes to the sublime. The sublime is an old notion of really big, powerful, mysterious stuff that terrifies us because it’s big, powerful and mysterious. The first BIG example that should come to mind: God, or the divine (that stuff is big and powerful and mysterious).
- Symmetry is a classical quality of the divine, as well as the defining factor of artistic beauty.
- So, there are lots of doors open with the first stanza. Just hold on, it’ll be OK. If there is one thing Blake does, it’s open doors, but it can be hard to keep track of where each one might lead as you read through the poem.