Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Blake's "Tyger" as Miltonic Beast

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Blake's "Tyger" as Miltonic Beast

Article excerpt

WILLIAM BLAKE'S "TYGER" IN SONGS OF EXPERIENCE, 1794, ROAMS throughout the poet s later symbolical books, and despite the intense scrutiny that scholars have dedicated to Blake's famous beast, it has not been recognized that imagery referencing the genesis, evolution, and redemption of this fiery creature was influenced crucially by the works of John Milton. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to argue the complexities of these dynamics (for they indeed are complex). (1)

Blake was inspired by Milton as no other author, and in An bland of the Moon, 1784-85, Quid (as Blake) enigmatically describes his lustful physiognomy as "Very like a Goat's face," while the face of the female who inordinately admires Quid's "high finishd" Art possesses the characteristics of "that noble beast the Tyger" (E 465), an allusion to Milton's Comus (68-74), where the brutish "human count'nance" is "chang'd / Into ... Tiger ... or bearded Goat." Comus (71) and Paradise Lost (4-344, 7.466-67) both associate the Tiger with the Ounce (the latter a member of the Lynx family), and Blake, in a version of the Magic Banquet, after Comus, illustrated a sorrow-faced Ounce and/or Tiger (Butlin, pl. 628). (2)

Although Blake had a Bengal Tiger in mind for his poem in Experience, the word "tiger" in the 18th century was a genetic term that applied to any kind of leonine beast, and Blake thus placed his Ounce and Tiger in the starry voids in Jerusalem (73:1-21), where Los (Blake's poetic surrogate) locates his "Furnaces" in "the City of Golgonooza," a Palace of Art "builded ... Upon the Limit of Translucence" (FZ v.60:3-4) in the "nether heavens" of hell (FZ VII.81:5-7, E 368). In Milton (29/31:4-11) "The Sky is an immortal Tent built by the Sons of Los," where the "two Poles turn on their valves of gold," (3) and Los's elemental Sons in Jerusalem 73 labor in the "starry characters of Og & Anak" (the giant Orion in his Hebraic context), (4) creating fiery constellations: "the lion [Leo] & wolf [Lupus] the bear [Ursa major] the tyger & ounce" (animals consolidated by Blake into the starry Lynx), (5) and "the wooly lamb," signified by shining Aries--Forms of celestial Art described as "hard restricting condensations," where nebulous light is converted into matter. (6) (Recall that Blake asks in "The Tyger" if the Maker of the little "Lamb" also made the fierce "Tyger.")

Blake extensively explored the night heavens in The Four Zoas (VIII. 106[2nd]:47-48, III[107]:1-8, E 382), where stars, hardening in the heavens, "shake their slumbers off ... / Calling the Lion & the Tyger, the horse [the constellation Pegasus--or Equus] or the wild Stag" (Tarandus, the Reindeer, a circumpolar beast), (7) while "the Lion [Leo] and the Bear [Ursa Major], trembling in the Solid mountain ... view the light ... crying out in terrible existence." Elsewhere in The Four Zoas (VIIb.90[98]:16-22, E 363) Urizen, Blake's fallen Prince of Light, working his way along the Zodiac and nearby paths, confronts the "sullen [starry] ... wooly sheep," the "fierce ... Bull," the "Lion raging in flames," the fiery "Tyger" (i.e., Lynx), the "serpent of the woods," the Serpent of the "waters," and "the scorpion of the desart irritate."

Blake in the above sequential account of the Northern Hemisphere refers to the forms of Aries, Taurus, Leo Major and Minor, the spotted Lynx, Serpens (held by Ophiuchus), gigantic Hydra, and poisonous Scorpio. Hydra, Blake's scaly Serpent of the Waters, sometimes is designated as "Serpens aquaticus" by astronomers, and this huge constellation of the deeps (extending over more than a third of the heavens, the head near Cancer and the tail near Libra) is not to be confused with Hydrus, another water serpent that is a small constellation located in the Southern Hemisphere.

In Jerusalem (3:1-4) Blake appraises the restrictive moral universe--where the "Tyger" roams--in which "God to Man [through Moses] the wond'rous art of writing gave" in "mysterious Sinai's awful cave," envisioned as the cavernous spherical heavens. …

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