When interpreting the poems of William Blake, the accompanying illustration, in addition to the poem itself, contributes to the reader’s understanding of the poem. In Blake’s “The Tyger”, the speaker questions the existence of evil in the world, asking if it is a reflection of its creator, God. Blake uses imagery of production to describe God’s creation of the tiger and directly links himself to God by also creating a tiger in his illustration. The illustrated tiger stands in opposition to the tiger described in the poem. Whereas the described tiger is frightening and threatening, the illustrated tiger looks frightened and unassuming. The symmetry of the description of the tiger and illustration of the tiger as opposing entities is reflected in the poem’s juxtaposition of its most powerful imagery: the Tyger and the Lamb. The Lamb can be equated to Blake’s illustration: gentle and innocent. The Tyger can be equated to the poem itself: fierce and antagonistic. Just as God created both the Lamb and the Tyger, so too has Blake created the poem and illustration. Unlocking the meaning of Blake’s poetry requires an examination of his accompanying illustrations just as an understanding of the Tyger requires an understanding of the Lamb, which suggests that meaning resides in knowledge of both evil and good.
Blake’s “The Tyger” questions the benevolence of God through its depiction of the Tyger itself. Blake describes the Tyger using a network of imagery of unnatural production that stands in opposition to a series of natural images as well as the Romantics’ celebration of nature, painting the Tyger in negative terms. In addition, the meter of the poem likens its sound to a primitive chanting which, when coupled with its imagery and diction, portrays the Tyger as menacing. Blake juxtaposes this threatening image of the Tyger with that of the Lamb, representing goodness, to question the motives of God, wondering how God could be good if he created something so evil. Blake creates a connection between himself and God by also fashioning a tiger in his illustration. The illustration of the Tyger, depicted as scared, is at odds with the threatening description of the Tyger in the poem. This tension reflects the tension inherent in all of creation: the simultaneous existence of good and evil. The emphasis on a slightly unbalanced symmetry in the illustration and in the poem itself, through the repetition of the first stanza, the symmetry of certain lines, and the highlighting of the actual word “symmetry”, implies that God intentionally did not create the world to be perfect, just as Blake purposefully did not create a perfect harmony within his poem and between his poem and his illustration; furthermore, by creating an imperfect poem, Blake, like God, allows one to gain knowledge through experience without which the poem, and the world, would be meaningless.